Port City landfill: Fisher folk, eco-activists protest impact | Sunday Observer

Port City landfill: Fisher folk, eco-activists protest impact

Fishermen took to the streets throughout this week, protesting against Government’s decision to allow dredging of sand in the deep seas along the Negombo–Dikovita area to provide sand to build the proposed Port City project. The fishermen and their families vowed to continue protests until their demands were met.

Several protests were held in Negombo and some in Colombo. The project has specified that, four Chinese ships can mine sand in the area for three years. President of the All Ceylon Fishery Folks Trade Union Anura Roshantha said, the sea wouldn’t survive the mining.

Sscientific basis

Earlier in the week at a media briefing, Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Patali Champika Ranawaka queried whether there was a scientific basis for demanding that the project be stopped.

Responding to that, Roshantha said, the affected parties are trying to determine the scientific reasons for approving the project. “We are not allowed to use the coast at all for anything without the risk of being arrested. We can’t set up temporary shelters to store our equipment or take sand from the ocean even on a small scale. If caught, we are charged with either a fine of Rs. 5,000/- or three months imprisonment.”

He explained that the area allocated for mining consists of sand dunes and rocks which are breeding areas for fish. Therefore, there will be a heavy impact on the fisheries industry in Negombo, he added. Roshantha said, the contradiction in the practice of law is confusing - they are charged in court for any sand mining, while the government allows four Chinese ships to dig 65 million cubic meters of sand.

They worry that the sea will erode into the lagoon if mining on such a large scale continues for three years, even though the authorities have not cited such a situation as a pending risk. “I can’t remember people in this country asking for a Port City. So, why jeopardize our environment and livelihood for the government’s power struggles?”

Though the public became more aware of the protests this week due to their daily routines being affected, the initial protests began way back in 2013, Thilak Kariyawasam, Chairman, Sri Lanka Nature Groups said.

He added that both, the initial and recent environment assessment reports have failed to conduct a proper assessment. Agreeing with Roshantha, Kariyawasam said, the lagoon will be heavily affected as a result of the sand mining, as the fishermen will take to fishing in the lagoon, instead of the sea, resulting in unnecessary rifts among the fishing community. It will also result in an overflow of lagoon fish and lack of sea fish in the market.

However, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out by the Central Environmental Authority states that sand mining is allowed within a 15 meter minimal level from the sea level to a 30 meter maximum level, which, according to the report, will not have any influence over sea erosion.

Pointing out another anomaly, Kariyawasam said, even though the Environmental Assessment Report (EAR) guidelines specified to start mining 4-5 kilometers away from the coast, the plan indicated that it gets as close as 2.5 kilometers from the coast.

“The recovery after three years of sand mining will be painful and long,” he added.

The protests launched by the fishermen are supported by the Catholic Church. Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda explained that this project would cost people their drinking water, topped up with noise pollution and affected flora and fauna. “People of this area didn’t ask for this project, though they are being victimized.”

“Public opinion was requested when the EARs were being prepared, but it was during the festive season last year, and many people were not available. Therefore, we compiled a comprehensive report on the issues faced by the people in the area and submitted it in January, but we didn’t get any response to it,” he explained.

Sand mining

Chairman, National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) Dr. Ajith Premaratne said, under the present government, an EIA was carried out for the proposed sand mining in Negombo and NARA was asked to assess the socio-economic and fisheries issues and biological impacts of the project, which was only a part of the EIA report.

NARA identified a certain location initially listed as an area allowed for mining, but it was unsuitable as it was a breeding area for fish and too close to the coast. As a result, the said location was dropped, and an alternate location identified, he said.

“Based on the EIA, the Coast Conservation Department listed 70 conditions for the implementation of the project, one of which is for NARA to monitor the ecological and biological impact of the project, and we are in the process of writing the proposal for the monitoring plan of the project,” he explained.

The fishermen’s concerns over sand mining have little to do with the project or the environment, but the loss of their livelihood, Director General, Coastal Conservation Department D. K. Prabath Chandrakeerthi said.

Approving agency

He explained that the Coastal Conservation Department acted only as an approving agency and after the Initial Environmental Assessment and the EIA, they approved the implementation of the plan.

“At present, the Coastal Conservation Department doesn’t have a problem with the sand mining spelt out in the EIA and the project,” he said. Minister Champika Ranawaka was unavailable for comment. However, he informed the media earlier this week that if there is a scientific basis to the protests “we shall not hesitate to address them.” The Minister said, the government has zeroed in on all geopolitical, environmental, legal and social aspects concerning the Port City (now formally called the Colombo International Financial City) Project before signing the new agreement between the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry,

Urban Development Authority and the China Harbour Engineering Company.

“If proof is available that the project will impact adversely on the fishing community, the government will compensate those families,” the Minister said.

The EIA Report also recommends a support and benefit program for the fishing families to increase their incomes. Officials of the Central Environmental Authority were not available for comment.