NEPA keeping an eye on changes to south coast Highway

NEPA keeping an eye on changes to south coast Highway

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, September 12, 2020

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RESIDENTS of Harbour View have been assured of the National Environment and Planning Agency’s (NEPA) full participation in amending the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the long-delayed Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP).

Prime Minister Andrew Holness broke ground in November 2019 to commence the multibillion-dollar highway project, which will include the rehabilitation of approximately 110 kilometres of roadway between Harbour View in St Andrew and Port Antonio in Portland, and the 26-kilometre thoroughfare from Morant Bay to Cedar Valley in St Thomas. Additionally, it will include construction of the May Pen to Williamsfield segment of Highway 2000.

However, the project has been plagued by several issues, including contractors China Harbour Engineering Company’s (CHEC) proposals to improve alignment of the roadway.

Assurance of NEPA’s vigilance as the project moves ahead came from the agency’s manager for the Applications Secretariat Branch, Miguel Nelson, during Wednesday’s virtual meeting in St Benedicts, Harbour View. In addition to NEPA, it had representatives of CHEC, the environmental engineering and environmental management team from Conrad Douglas and Associates (CDA) and the National Works Agency (NWA) which hosted the meeting.

According to the CDA’s Dr Mark Richards, the EIA for the project was completed by NEPA in 2018, but since then the contractors have sought permission to have an amendment to the original design along the section of the road leading from Harbour View in St Andrew to Yallahs in St Thomas. They are requesting road alignments at several sections of the highway.

“It was felt that it was better to place the alignments in a number of locations, which would give the best value and also ensure what is best suited to the requests of the residents,” Richards told the meeting.

In the initial report, site assessment field visits by Stanley Consultants and NWA staff had identified challenges associated with the initial realignment options, such as difficult terrain and existing commercial and residential development. The information was later used to help optimise the design for the realignment alternatives. Where realignment alternatives were not feasible, the existing corridor conditions were analysed for upgrades to meet project design standards.

Nelson, however, assured the meeting that whatever changes are made must take into consideration the issues raised by residents over the next seven days.

He said NEPA is keeping and eye on the process to ensure that public meetings are held, in accordance with terms outlined in the document titled “General Guidelines for Public Consultations regarding EIA applications”.

He said that, as the regulator, NEPA must remain objective and as such will be making comments in relation to the developments.

The NWA is required to, within seven days of Wednesday’s meeting, submit the meeting minutes to NEPA. The public will have 21 days to send in written comments on the new proposals.

Nelson also noted that all comments from the residents will be collated by NEPA and sent to the NWA for a response. He said, too, that NEPA will make a recommendation to the Natural Resources Conservation Authority which is responsible for making the final decision.

The EIA report for the proposed realignments are available to the public from various sources including the St Thomas Municipal Corporation, the Bull Bay and Yallahs Post Office, the Bull Bay police station, or from the NEPA website.

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