Despite the controversy swirling around the project, Finance Minister Dr. Peter Phillips has given another indication that Jamaica's proposed Goat Islands port development is likely to go ahead.
Dr. Phillips, speaking in Kingston at mid-week, said that plans could be finalised soon to build the new port, to be situated on the islands just off Old Harbour Bay on Jamaica's south coast, subject to the results of an environmental study.
That location was chosen by Chinese investors to be part of the logistics hub which Jamaica is seeking to set up over the next few years
That decision, when it became public knowledge, sparked significant public dissent, led by environmental NGOs, concerned about the impact this development could have on the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) in which Goat Islands are located.
Dr. Phillips, addressing a Mayberry investment forum, confirmed that discussions were continuing "with respect to the establishment of an additional port and the associated industrial zone behind it."
Significantly, he added that the government expects "in the course of this year, for there to be a formal agreement, once the necessary environmental studies and other studies are concluded."
The Goat Islands port is one component of a much larger set of projects being pursued by the Government of Jamaica to position the island as an important point on the global network of logistics hubs for the movement of goods and services.
Some of the other elements are the Caymanas Economic Zone, a drydock for repairing ships at Jackson Bay in Clarendon, a cargo airport at Vernamfield, also in Clarendon, and a bulk cargo port at Cow Bay in St. Thomas. In addition, the Port of Kingston is to be expanded and Kingston Harbour dredged while the two international airports - in Kingston and in Mongeto Bay - are to be further expanded.
The Goat Islands project, being pursued by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), is by far the most controversial aspect of the logistics hub programme. Priced at US$1.5 billion, it represents, for the Government of Jamaica, one of the largest investment projects ever contemplated in this country, with the potential to serve as a catalyst for further investments and economic growth.
For environmentalists, on the other hand, if approved, it would signal the death of a significant wildlife habitat and an important spawning ground for several species of fish, on which many fishermen and their families on the island's south coast rely for a livelihood.
A Scoping Study, the findings of which were released by the Port Authority of Jamaica on October, 2013, identified the plant and marine life forms that could be affected by the proposed development and made recommendations regarding how to enhance the environmental conditions. These would include relocation of any affected fish sanctuaries and replanting disturbed areas of mangrove and sea grass to ensure that the habitat within the PBPA are maintained, if not improved.
There were 21 rare, threatened and endangered species of animals and plants found in the PBPA and of that number, 10 occupy the Portland Bight and Ridge and Hellshire Hill.
The results of the Scoping Study were used, in part, as a basis on which to proceed with negotiations towards the establishment of the port, even as the much more detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (referred to by Dr. Phillips at the Mayberry function on Wednesday) continues.