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CHEC to build over 800 residences on historic Mammee Bay property

China Harbour Engineering Company, CHEC, will be constructing a gated residential complex at Mammee Bay, St Ann, on lands revered for its rivers and ancient indigenous settlements, according to an environmental impact assessment or EIA report on the development.

The lands, spanning 740 acres or 300 hectares, were originally conceived as a hotel or villa complex, a decade ago, but the focus has shifted to cater to a different element of the real estate market, the report indicated.

It’s designed to accommodate around 4,000 residents.

“The developers had considered constructing a luxury villa complex but found that the market and the landscape were best suited for a mixed housing complex, which provided a range of housing solutions for a wider segment of the community,” stated the EIA.

CHEC, a Chinese company, has been planning to develop the property since 2014, when Portia Simpson Miller was the prime minister. The plans were revived in 2017 during the Holness administration.

CHEC came into possession of the property when it was offered as payment for its construction of North-South Highway 2000. That leg of the toll highway reportedly cost over US$600 million.

“CHEC is proposing to create homes for approximately 4,000 persons,” the construction company said in the EIA report.

The actual number in the report was 4,468 persons. To do this, it plans to build 834 units of apartments and town houses within a “gated housing community”. This includes 39 deluxe three-bedroom bungalows, and three sets of 47-unit apartments. The developers also propose “two commercial units”.

The total project will span six phases but the timelines were not disclosed in the report. CHEC did not respond to requests for comment on the project timeline and costs.

The architecture of the planned housing ticks the modern motif of rectangular structures painted white with dark wood accents.

The lands contain sensitive sites, including Roaring River, Little River, Roaring River Great House, Mammee Bay Great House, and at least one Taino settlement, and before that a Redware culture settlement.

“The wider area comprises an indigenous people’s settlement on the coastline at the mouth of the Little River. These people, referred to as the Redware culture, represented the earliest known cultural group to occupy the island dating circa AD 650,” the EIA, adding that the Redwares were the precursors to the Tainos or Arawaks who arrived in the island two centuries later.

Activists also contend that it’s the home of the grandfather of National Hero Marcus Garvey.

The project still requires planning approvals, a process that generally follows after public consultations on EIA reports.

The EIA was prepared by consultants Environmental Solutions Limited on behalf of CHEC. Environmental Solutions said the ecological and historical impacts could be minimised, but that the development would lead to some loss of habitat.

“The construction associated with the proposed housing development will result in extensive removal of vegetation and excavating the land which will result in the loss of habitat and greenery,” Environmental Solutions said.

One mitigation measure includes incorporating the river, stream, and its surrounding vegetation into the development. The report added that the developers can relocate creatures whose habitats are disturbed to other areas on the land.

The initial development site will span 100 acres of the 740 acres. The site itself will have 60 per cent structure and 40 per cent natural elements, the EIA added. But it will still erase or run through parts of the virgin forest, rivers, trees, animals, insects, and potentially parts of its history. This makes the development contentious in some quarters.

One campaign that started a decade ago by activist and self-described ‘radical journalist’ Kabu Ma’at Kheru, argued that the site contains a key water source for the parish and that the project should be abandoned.

“These lands are sitting on one of Jamaica’s most important limestone plateaus and provide water for the hydro-electric plant at Laughing Waters, Steer Town and Chalky Hill and other areas of St Ann,” said Kheru, more popularly known for hosting Running African, a Sunday morning show on IRIE FM. Her campaign, ‘Do Not Give the Roaring River Water Shed to China’ which still endures online, has received over 6,000 online supporters.

“Marcus Garvey’s grandfather and entire family … were enslaved on the Roaring River property,” she said, while citing a UCLA paper on Garvey.

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