I find myself torn between Diana McCaulay, who heads the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) and Greg Christie, Contractor-General of Jamaica as candidates for my Man of the Year award.
After the devastating rains we’ve had recently and yesterday’s minor earthquake (could this be the minor before the major as @Marxshields asked on Twitter) we should be even more conscious of the environment we live in and how fragile it really is. Yet how many of us are willing to be activists in ensuring that Jamaica’s delicate ecosystem isn’t eviscerated by ambitious ‘development’ plans with little consideration for preserving the country’s coastal integrity?
Diana McCaulay has almost singlehandedly been taking the fight to the authorities on the matter of the proposed transformation of the Palisadoes spit leading to the airport into a mega highway. We all know the kind of disruption and destruction of the environment this invariably entails. And in case we don’t McCaulay explains it eloquently in her post The Destruction of the Palisadoes Spit:
An environmental victory is in some ways an absence – a road not built, a mine averted, a hotel relocated, a golf course avoided. We are used to the presence of a natural resource – while it persists, it’s unremarkable. An environmental victory is always temporary – no matter how solid the case, how overwhelming the public support – at some point in the future, an attempt will be made to reverse it. The plans for the mine will be dusted off, there will be a new investor for the hotel that wasn’t built and a case will be made for the golf course.
Environmental defeats, though, are glaring – forests razed, rivers “trained,” sand dunes destroyed, beaches scraped clean, wetlands laid waste. And despite the promise of the relatively new science of restoration ecology, such defeats are mostly permanent.
On the doorstep to the city of Kingston in September 2010, you can see an environmental defeat. The Palisadoes spit, that jointed arm that holds Kingston Harbour in loose embrace, has been bulldozed by the National Works Agency (NWA), via their Chinese contractors and/or Jamaican sub contractors, led by the Minister of Transport and Works, with the willing and enthusiastic support of the National and Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). At this point, it appears that the entire spit will be denuded of all vegetation, its beaches compacted, sand dunes destroyed, the few struggling strands of mangroves obliterated in order to construct or expand (it’s not entirely clear which) an utterly unnecessary road.
It seems that NEPA whose role is to safeguard the interests of the country in matters involving large scale developments which impact on the environment is often toothless when it comes to laying down the law. At a public meeting called on Oct 4 with one day’s notice to stakeholders such as JET, McCaulay delivered a small coffin with the assets of Palisadoes inside it and an RIP sign to Peter Knight, head of NEPA. It was an expression of her frustration with what now seems to be a done deal–the razing of the Palisadoes strip to accommodate a major highway to the airport.
There are plans to also create a boardwalk along the new roadway, which would really be a lovely thing. I visited Barbados in 2009 and enjoyed the beautiful wooden boardwalk the government there had put up along one of the most popular coastal strips there. Why couldn’t we have one like that i remember thinking, so i’m not at all averse to the idea. It’s just that the concerns being raised by the environmentalists here seem not to be gaining any traction and if the price tag is too high, in ecological terms, might we not be exposing ourselves to more violent storm surges and coastal erosion in the future?
It takes balls for a single woman to go up against the state in the way Diana McCaulay has which is why she’s my candidate for Man of the Year. Below is a video she created to document the proposed changes to the spit, a link to a JET statement about the proposed highway and below that is a link of a University of the West Indies study of the Palisadoes spit done in 1994.