- Project proponent CHEC port failed to commission any EIAs as required by law
- SEIA which is speculative cannot be considered a complete EIA
By Nishel Fernando
A leading academic claims the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process concerning the Colombo Port City project which was renamed as Colombo International Financial City (CIFC) had fundamental flaws.
“An initial Feasibility study and EIA was done when Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA) was the project proponent.
In 2015, a supplementary EIA was initiated with the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development as project proponent. Thereafter, project proponent (PP) changed to China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC) and later to its subsidiary, China Harbour Engineering (CHEC). However, this PP didn’t commission any EIA reports. Under the NEA /Coast Conservation Act (CCA), the PP must commission the EIA,” University of Colombo, Faculty of Law, Department of Commercial Law, Professor Naazima Kamardeen pointed out.
She made these observations at a discussion themed “Colombo Port City Project: The Environmental Narrative” organised by Colombo based think-tank, Verité Research in Colombo last week.
The Yahalapanya government in 2015 temporarily suspended the project work until the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development completed the Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) in 2016.
However, Professor Kamardeen argued that there were no provisions to carry out a SEIA in the NEA or CCA.
“It was decided that SEIA to be done considering that the land area of the project had increased from 200 ha to 269 ha. The SEIA was justified on the basis that it has been done in the past (Muthurajawela landfill, 1994) and an international example also cited. However, there is no provision in the NEA or CCA for a SEIA,” she noted.
Further, she insisted that the SEIA which was carried out by Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau cannot be considered a complete EIA as it was done for the expanded land requirement and with major flaws.
“It gives a 20 point summary of environmental impacts and mitigation methods. Most of these are based on desk research; the previous feasibility reports and speculations. Very few scientific studies are relied on for supporting these claims. It is highly technical in parts, and cannot be easily understood
“A larger part of the report praises the development benefits of the project. However, the report does mention that a more detailed EIA will have to be carried out for the infrastructure development plan of the Port City,” she elaborated.
Moreover, Professor Kamardeen lamented that the SEIA has not considered all alternatives of the project, making the SEIA report rather speculative.
“A proper EIA process should consider all the potential alternatives of a project, including no-action alternatives.
“It is speculative in nature for the precise purpose of anticipating future events. Leaving out potential impacts of the infrastructure development is not acceptable, as these will create ingoing impacts (air and water pollution from a growing population, garbage, sewage etc).
“The project is one of the largest in Sri Lanka, involving the coastline. It is highly improbable that there would not be a single irreversible, long term permanent environmental impact, and many species are point-endemic. The fact that the EIA report does not mention these is unfortunate,” she went on to say.
She expressed her grave concerns over the failure to consider best possible alternatives in the EIA process of the project.
“EIAs are an important indicator for sustainable development purposes. They help us to indentify best possible alternatives. The Port City Project EIA doesn’t provide any alternative, including the “no-action” alternative.
“If the initial activity of sand mining couldn’t get past a proper feasibility study, it is very doubtful if the rest of the project could,” she said.
Moreover, she recalled that the World Bank (WB) debarred CCCC and its subsidiaries, for fraudulent practices under phase one of the Philippines National Roads improvement and Management project.
Under the sanction, CCCC was ineligible to engage in any road and bridge project financed by the WB until January 12, 2017.
“Freeport McMoran being blacklisted was considered by court in the Eppawala case as being serious enough to deny them investment opportunities,” she noted.
Moving forward, Professor Kamardeen urged authorities to follow the EIA process for the remainder of the project to mitigate potential harms from the project as it’s too late to abandon the project now.
“The amount of work already put in does not permit abandonment of the project. This could result in greater environmental harm. Therefore, the project should be completed. However, a proper EIA for the rest f the project should be ideally done, so that any potential harm could be mitigated.
Continuing EIAs are accepted in international law for large projects where there is variable change. It is recommended that EIA be done by the PP at least for future aspects (environmental impacts of human activity at the Colombo Port City project),” she added.
Officials assure due procedure followed
While noting that EIA for development activities and infrastructure facilities of reclaimed land is already completed, Colombo Port City project officials assure that the project company, CHEC Port City and the government have followed due procedure for EIAs.
The Colombo Port City, team leader Port City environment monitoring plan (EMP), W. A. D. D. Wijesooriya said the Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) which was carried out during June to December 2015 should be considered as a comprehensive EIA.
He noted that SEIA covers key components such as construction of offshore breakwaters, edge revetments/sea walls, submerged groyne, inner breakwater, sand barriers, marina basin, lagoon and canal, artificial beaches and other relevant coastal protection structures, and groyne of southern side of Beira lake outlet to avoid blockage and stagnation of Beira lake outlet.
Further, he said that SEIA was reviewed by all 34 Technical Evaluation Committee members including CEA.
He also noted that the project company, CHEC Port City shifted its earlier plan to extract sand from site 1 which was overlapping with fishing grounds, and reduced the focus area for sand extraction in site two as well for similar concerns.
Meanwhile, Wijesooriya revealed that a separate EIA was carried out for development activities and infrastructure facilities within the reclaimed land area of Colombo Port City project in 2017 which was approved in 2018.
Consequently, a development permit was issued with 50 conditions on 21 August 2018 to carry out development activities in the reclaimed land.
The EIA covers components such material requirement, waste requirement, noise/vibration, air quality, landscape and visual impacts, traffic management, drainage management, water quality, ecological aspects, green concept, archaeological impact assessment and environmental monitoring.
However, the EIA has only received 2 observations during the public consultation period compared to the over 200 observations for SEIA.
Further, Wijesooriya said that Rs.36 million per annum in expenditure has been allocated for monitoring activities as per the Environmental Management Plan.
The CIFC relies on the government for utilities and waste water management.
As per estimates, electricity demand in CIFC is to peak to 382 MW by 2035. The operational water use is estimated to peak to near 40,000 cubic meters a day by 2025 and operational waste water generation to peak to near 30,000 cubic meters a day by 2025.
The CHEC Port City early this year successfully reclaimed 269 hectares of land from the sea, to begin the second phase of the project by utilising an estimated 65 million cubic meters of sea sand and approximately 3.45 million cubic meters of rock for marine structures. (NF)