The Office of the Auditor General presented its environmental audit report on the Coastal Degradation at Gunn Hill to the Legislative Assembly on Monday, July 29, 2019. Some of the key findings and recommendations follow.
The Government of Montserrat in 2013 engaged the Halcrow Group Limited to design a proposed port and to produce an environmental impact assessment for the development of a port facility at Carr’s Bay. A key decision stemming from the proposed development was the need to remove Gunn Hill. The Ministry of Finance contracted Selsi Limited for the removal of Gunn Hill which was reduced from an altitude of between 31.5 – 45.7m at its highest point to its current level of 4.0m. The port development project did not materialize.
The removal of Gunn Hill had immediate adverse effects such as loss of scenic quality, loss of resilience to storm attack and reduction of sediment supply to the coast. To date, no manmade landscape was created as a result of the discontinuation of the project. The medium term effects highlighted beach narrowing, loss of sediment as a result of the openness to wave action. The discontinuation of the project opens nearby infrastructure – roads, bridge and business owners to greater risk of flooding in the absence of the hill and inadequate sea landscape.
The OAG found that the appearance of sinkholes in and around the site highlighted the danger of using the area for fishing, increased dumping of soil and boulders and derelict items and vehicles which can be easily moved during strong wind and heavy rains.
Extraction of a significant portion of the hill has weakened the superstructure; there is evidence of landslides to the south of the hill and continuous separation or further break off of the cliff’s edge. Existing caves on the north western and south sides have eroded further inland and there is the risk that the base of Gunn Hill will collapse.
Additionally, ongoing mining of significant amount of sand using excavators also threatens the possibility of further erosion. Many times this activity has occurred without the knowledge of key government officials. Beach Protection Act states that it’s a criminal offence for anyone to use a motor vehicle to remove sand from any beach without a written permit.
Government of Montserrat should always ensure that they have agreed alternate sources of financing to cover the full cost of a project before commencing projects of such nature and magnitude. Further, a request should be made for every project/proposed development requiring an environmental impact assessment to include a section on the impact on the environment at the end of each critical phase of major projects if it were discontinued.
A capital project request or programme of works submission should be made by Ministry of Agriculture, Lands Housing and the Environment for the installation of hard and or soft structures to ensure coastal protection.
MATLHE to ensure the cessation or the minimization of significant sand mining in the Carr’s Bay area and adequate signage must be posted in the area to warn persons of the possible dangers to prevent GOM being held liable should an accident occur.
These and other findings and recommendations are included in the full report which can be found at the Montserrat Public Library or by visiting the Office of the Auditor General Facebook Page or Online Publications at http://oag.gov.ms