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Environment issues hamper Port City Project

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Environment issues hamper  Port City Project (Pics by Chandana Wijesinghe)

The Colombo Port City, the single biggest private sector development in the history of Sri Lanka which has attracted a lot of criticism for the past few months regarding its status, is now halted according to the government, due to unresolved environmental problems pertaining to the surroundings of the project. However, it was reported on February 13 (Friday) that despite the statement made by the government, the construction of the port city project still continues. Environmental impacts, potential threat to the national security of India and also the question that China be given a part of it to reclaim their investment are some of the issues related to the Colombo Port City project.

Approval
The Port City project received the cabinet approval in January 2014 to proceed as a strategic development project. The investment is made by the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and the cost for the total project is USD 1.4 billion. According to CHEC Colombo Port City (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of CCCC, has been assigned to undertake all land reclamation and infrastructure work for the Port City, the initial plan was to build 233 hectares. According to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) the total investment for the project will surpass USD 2 billion and the developers will also provide 250 hectares of land to the SLPA free.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) in 2010 has commissioned the University of Mortuwa to carry out an initial technical feasibility study and also an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Port City development project. The study was completed in 2011. Accordingly, it was submitted to the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department by the SLPA. In October 2014, the Coastal Resource Management Department has issued its final approval for the EIA pertaining to the project.
According to CHEC Colombo Port City (Pvt) Ltd, Environmental Management Plan (EMP) was also submitted by the CCCC. Coastal Resource Management Department in 2014 has given its approval for the said EMP.

The construction work of the Port City project was launched on 17th September 2014 by the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Colombo Port City project will be built in two phases. In the first phase, land reclamation will be done and the second phase involves infrastructure development including aspects like transport infrastructure, utility and waste treatment infrastructure.
The ownership of the Colombo Port City as well as the sole authority lies with the Sri Lankan Government and the CCCC will carry out construction work. The Colombo Port City is expected to attract USD 13 billion worth of foreign direct investment from around the world and also 83,000 jobs will be created under the project.

Environmental impact
Environmentalist, Sajeewa Chamikara, talking to the Nation regarding the environmental issues said, the construction of proposed Colombo Port has resulted a lot of issues in the environment already. He raised his concern over the disputed EIA report which was done by the University of Moratuwa.

“That EIA report is not done for the land in which the port city will be built. Because reclamation of a vast area, which is far more extensive, is happening at the site,” said Chamikara.

He also pointed out the fact that the feasibility studies and assessments which are said to be done by the Moratuwa University cannot be relied upon since those studies are incomplete.

Elaborating on the environmental impact Chamikara said, “The project requires 12-16 million cubes of granite, however, only 2 million cubes can be obtained from sources within the country. Due to excess mining several other implications have arisen.” He further mentioned that such activities are taking place in the districts of Ratnapura, Kalutara, Gampaha and Colombo and excessive mining is happening in environmentally sensitive areas.

He further mentioned that an EIA is prepared to see whether such proposed projects are sustainable for the country. Without an EIA report a project cannot commence but this particular project started without a proper EIA and therefore it has being operated illegally by violating the conditions of an EIA.

Chamikara pointing out more other issues related to environment surrounding the area of the project stated, “Beaches are being mined for sand, causing destruction of fish breeding grounds and marine organisms living along the coast in bays, estuaries, and shallow waters which has direct negative impact on the fishing industry making issues worse.”

Coastal erosion is yet another impact which the country is facing at the moment due to excess mining of sand. “The coastal belt from the Colombo to Panadura up to Galle is facing this problem. Coastal erosion is a problem for those who live near coasts,” he said.

He stressed on the fact that this project should be stopped immediately since it will cause serious harm to the environment.

“The Colombo Port City is a serious threat to the marine eco-system and it will only bring destruction to the country, therefore it should be abandoned,” Chamikara mentioned.

Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Director General, K.H. Muthukudaarachchi expressing his opinion stated that CEA has asked the SLPA to submit an assessment regarding the project and they have also appointed a technical committee to further examine the EIA report which was completed in 2011 by the University of Moratuwa.

Environment Lawyer Jagath Gunawardena stated that a comprehensive assessment should be done before giving the approval for the port city project.

“It is a mega project and therefore will greatly impact the environment. Renewable and non-renewable materials used should also be thoroughly assessed,” said Gunawardena.

He also said that the entire coastal belt should be assessed and not just a few areas surrounding the said project.

Current status
Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation, Arjuna Ranatunga speaking to the media on Friday (13) said that they will take a final decision as to whether the government will give its approval to continue the construction of the Port City or to halt the project altogether. He mentioned that the decision will be made after reviewing the EIA report and other matters related to the issue including the environmental impact.

Minister of Plantation Industries Lakshman Kiriella at the Cabinet press briefing held on February 12 expressed that the construction at the Colombo Port City has stopped. He pointed out that the construction stopped since the EIA was incomplete and it is being reviewed.

“There were major flaws in the project including that it did not conform to the environmental laws of the country,” he said.

However, Cabinet spokesperson, Rajitha Senaratne had earlier reiterated that the EIA had been completed and there is no such issue and therefore the construction has not stopped. The Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe making a special statement in Parliament took back Senaratne’s statement pointing out that the information on the project was incomplete and some reports concerning the environment which are needed for the project to continue are missing. He also expressed that no final decision has been reached yet, since it’s being reviewed by a cabinet subcommittee.

It is worth noting that though some of the responsible government officials vows that the construction has stopped, construction at the port city continued even on 13 |(Friday).

However, an official statement regarding the future of the project will be made in Parliament on February 18.

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