Where We Are Today

In 1995, the Soufrière Hills Volcano destroyed the capital, Plymouth, and left two-thirds of the island uninhabitable, leaving an ocean of volcanic silt in its wake. Natural erosion and rainstorm-driven mudflows that followed created a wealth of ash and sand.

As a result, the Montserrat government and a small group of investors recognized the potential economic value (to them) in sand mining and initiated a third-party report to identify locations to build the industry and the movement of sand off the island. The report identified two possible jetty options: Isles Bay and Foxes Bay.

Recommendations from two independent studies (Oxford and Halcrow) supported sand mining “in the upper reaches of the Belham Valley” with “a proposed jetty at Foxes Bay.” According to the reports, this location would “minimize the environmental disturbance and impact of residents on both sides of the valley, who generate significant revenue for the island.”

The Halcrow Report recommended Foxes Bay as the best location for the jetty. The reason: the Isles Bay location will require constant dredging from material coming down the valley during rainfall and from lahars following heavy rain, which could regularly destroy the jetty.

The recent Belham Environmental Assessment (EIA) identifies five sifting-plant locations in the Belham Valley, three flanked by residential properties.

Unfortunately, the quality-of-life and environmental impacts of current sand-mining activity are already taking their toll by turning the Belham Valley into a defacto industrial zone with all the accompanying noise and dirt seven days a week.

There are also obvious signs of destruction at many locations in the Valley from damage to roads to the impact of excavation that leaves surrounding areas looking like moonscapes, and there is no government control that would have prevented a conveyor being built across a residential road.

Allowing mining and material processing to continue in Belham Valley with the Isles Bay jetty will

  • generate hundreds of truckloads of materials into the valley creating powerful noise and continuous exhaust.
  • produce massive amounts of dust to be carried wherever the wind blows
  • ruin the Isles Bay Beach recreational area and nesting habitat for the Hawksbill turtles, which are already considered “critically endangered.”
  • destroy property values by up to 70% in more than 500 nearby homes and villas, causing the potential loss of current residents, tourists and jobs now providing income for hundreds, if not thousands of people.

According to an independent review of the government’s physical development plan for the north of Montserrat for 2012-2022, “sand has been mined from the Belham Valley in an unorganized, unsustainable and in some cases, illegal manner.”

A subsequent Environmental Impact Assessment completed in 2011 pointed out that hauling sand from Belham Valley to the Little Bay area has already

  • damaged the road pavement and structures,
  • created road safety hazards and
  • generated “noise nuisance from horn blowing on the approach bends and from inadequately-silenced vehicles, and raising of dust on unsealed sections following pavement damage caused by trucks.”

The report also indicated that the “potential for soil and water pollution is high” and, among other recommendations, “effective measures must be put in place to prevent pollution of “ the aquifer which lies under the Belham Valley and is “kept in reserve to meet future increased water demand.”

There’s another environmental concern: protecting beach nesting sites of the extremely endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

The 2009 Manual of Best Practices for Safeguarding Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches by experts Ga-Yong and Dr. Karen L. Eckert points out that “driving on beaches can seriously degrade the coastal environment by damaging beach vegetation, compacting sand, crushing incubating eggs, creating deep ruts and tire tracks that can trap hatchlings trying to reach the sea (Hosier et al. 1981), and accelerating erosion (potentially resulting in the loss of nests to the sea).”

The report recommends that “with the exception of authorized patrol or emergency vehicles (which should be required to drive below the high tide line), motorized vehicles not be allowed to drive on sandy beaches except at authorized boat haul-out sites.”

The bottom line: a decision to build a jetty in Isles Bay 1) doesn’t make sense and 2) is unsupported.

Read The Compromise