South Asians for Human Rights

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Government agencies seem to be moving towards a final approval of the Port City project, currently stalled due to high ecological risks, but environmental groups cry ‘foul’ claiming that they had not been consulted as required by the environmental impact assessment process.

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report on the US $1.4 billion Colombo Port City Project will be released between October 20-25 and referred to a technical committee consisting of officials from 25 institutions which will study the report, Coast Conservation and Director, Coastal Resource Management Department, Gamini Hewage told Sunday Observer Business.

He said the Port City project has been transferred to the Urban Development Authority by an Act of Parliament. The Department of Coast Conservation is responsible for the EIA Report on the project. “We have already sent our Terms of Reference with our recommendations to the Urban Development Authority. The Technical Committee report will be studied by a committee of experts and referred to a Ministerial Committee for consideration and public views will be entertained up to 30 working days via the electronic and print media,” Hewage said.

“The UDA’s observations on the public’s views will be referred back to the Technical Committee. Thereafter, the Department of Coast Conservation will grant approval if the project does not pose any problems, by the end of January.

There are, however, a few outstanding issues to be thrashed out,” he said. Chairman, Sri Lanka Nature Group, Thilak Kariyawasam said that not a single civil society organization was consulted in preparing the much anticipated Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the Colombo Port City Development Project which was due to be released by the Coastal Conservation Department (CCD) last week. He said the Movement Against the Port City Project vehemently opposed the EIA report prepared by the former regime as an unscientific report to mislead the public.

“The Movement Against the Port City which comprises a large number of civil society organizations believes that the new report would be similar to the previous one as it has not taken into consideration the views of marine biologists, environmentalists and fisheries communities,” Kariyawasam said.

He said the Western coastal belt from Wellawatte to Moratuwa will be severely affected due to extensive sand mining. Marine biologists have condemned sea sand mining which changes the sea wave current pattern which affects the flow of debris from the Kelani River to the sea.

The usual spread of debris to the Modera and Negombo lagoon will be hampered and as a result fish breeding in these areas will be adversely affected. Any adverse effect on marine life will be a blow to the livelihood of fisherfolk.

“Sea sand mining will result in the spread of sewerage from the two main lines in Colombo to Mt. Lavinia and Negombo, two popular tourists locations. The coastal area in these locations patronized by local and foreign visitors will be affected,” Kariyawasam said.

He said the Movement has called for a meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to express their views on the matter.

Director General, Coastal Conservation Department (CCD), Prabath Chandrakeerthi said the department has been informed that the EIA report was due to be released soon. “When we get the report, we will refer it to a Technical Committee of the Department, and we will forward it with their recommendations to the Special Committee headed by the Secretary to the Prime Minister appointed to review the project,” he said.

Chandrakeerthi said the Terms of Reference (ToR) that laid the guidelines as to what should be included in the EIA was compiled by the CCD with the Central Environmental Authority (CEA).

He said they would specifically look for areas which were not covered by the previous EIA report, adding that the CCD is the authorized agency to issue the permit for the project.

“The previous EIA had only covered an area of 200 hectares, whereas the entire project site extends to 270 hectares. A separate environmental assessment should be carried out for the area from where they will obtain sand for the project. We have been informed that sea sand would be used for the purpose. The impact of the breakwater to be constructed near the port city will also be analyzed,” he said. Chandrakeerthi said the CCD has given instructions to the Urban Development Ministry as to how the EIA should be carried out, adding that the ministry has forwarded it to the Chinese company undertaking the project.

“The EIA was carried out by the company in consultation with the Moratuwa University,” he added. Chandrakeerthi said the high level review committee headed by the Secretary to the Prime Minister also includes the Secretaries to the Environment and Mahaweli Development Ministry and Urban Development Ministry, Urban Development Authority Chairman and Director General, and representatives of the Attorney General’s Department and CEA.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government’s Special Envoy and Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Liu Zhenmin called on President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe during an official visit to Sri Lanka last week.

by Rohana Jayalal

Updated On: 18 October 2015