The Ministry of Megapolis & Western Development has sent us the following Right of Reply statement with regard to last week’s article headlined “Why Port City is Bad for the Country” The Ministry of Megapolis & Western Development, as the Ministry overseeing the Colombo Port City Project, is surprised and disappointed at the gross inaccuracies [...]

Sunday Times 2

Port City Project: Megapolis Ministry clarifies


The Ministry of Megapolis & Western Development has sent us the following Right of Reply statement with regard to last week’s article headlined “Why Port City is Bad for the Country”

The Ministry of Megapolis & Western Development, as the Ministry overseeing the Colombo Port City Project, is surprised and disappointed at the gross inaccuracies contained in the above article written by Carmel L. Corea and therefore compelled to exercise its legitimate right to respond with the Ministry’s point of view.

It is quite evident when perusing the article that it has been put together based on old and irrelevant information and the author has not read the Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) report of December 2015, which was prepared during the suspension period of the project’s construction to address the changes made to the extent of the reclaimed area and to obtain required permits for sand extraction, which was an obligation of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) under the Agreement entered in to between the project developer and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL).

It is therefore important for the writer to be educated on the SEIA. The terms of reference for the SEIA of December 2015 were intended to complement the approved EIA of 2011 for reclamation of land and matters connected to sand and rock extraction, socio economic impacts etc. The terms of reference (ToR) were framed by a Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) that comprised officers of the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and the Coast Conservation & Coastal Resource Management Department (CC&CRMD). The Project Proponent for the SEIA was the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, taking over responsibilities from the SLPA for obtaining environmental permits.

The lead consultant for the SEIA was the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau (CECB), the premier consultancy organisation in Sri Lanka with a wide range of expertise in different engineering disciplines, employing over 1,800 engineers and technical experts. Whilst being involved in many EIA and IEE studies in various fields, CECB has been involved as the lead consultant for marine and coastal environment related EIA studies covering ports, breakwaters, fisheries harbours in Sri Lanka and overseas since 2000. In addition, the CECB engaged in specialist services of several reputed expert organisations to fulfil the stipulated ToR. Such consultants engaged in the preparation of the SEIA included: Lanka Hydraulics Institute, University of Moratuwa, National Aquatic Resource Research and Development Agency, GSMB Technical Services, CDR of Holland etc. In all, the technical team preparing the SEIA numbered over 50 and included 16 coastal engineers and several marine biologists.

The SEIA report was then reviewed by a TEC appointed by the (CC&CRMD) comprising 34 officers from various disciplines. The SEIA study was modified based on their comments. Thereafter, the study was reviewed by the Advisory Committee of the (CC&CRMD), which included several Senior Secretaries and scientists. After receiving these clearances, the SEIA report was made available to the public from 1st December 2015 to 13th January 2016 at 11 locations, with wide publicity given in the media. The study is also available for review on the website of the (CC&CRMD) even today.

Upon receiving over 200 public comments and based on responses to these by the SEIA team of consultants by the 30 plus members of the TEC, the (CC&CRMD) issued a development permit imposing 71 conditions on the Project Developer. These included restricting sand extraction to 3km and beyond from the shoreline, obtaining sand from depths of over 15 metres and at an average of only 2 m of sand to be extracted from any location having 3m or more of sand depth. Scientific studies have proven beyond any doubt that when dredging for sand beyond 8 m in depth, there is no impact whatsoever on coastal erosion.

Therefore, the author is quoting the history of Port City from inaccurate and poorly researched articles written by various persons on or prior to December 2015 when the new SEIA was made available to the public. Very simply, as stated earlier, during the suspension period, a comprehensive SEIA was carried out, which can be read as a stand alone document, independent to the 2011 EIA study that was also subject to public review and approved by the (CC&CRMD). It is unfortunate that Carmel L. Corea has failed to make any references in her article to the December 2015 SEIA, which is the definitive document that governs the environmental impacts of this project and mitigation measures arising therefrom.

The writer’s ignorance is further exemplified by the undermentioned factual errors in her article. Firstly, her statement that the 2011 EIA study was for 120 ha (300 acres) is incorrect. The EIA study that was made available to the public in June 2011 was for 200 hectares according the stamped EIA study that is in the library of the CEA. The (CC&CRMD) issued the development permit with 42 conditions based on this EIA for 200 hectares and an Addendum study for 233 ha. Therefore, the area increase was 17% and it is wrong for the writer to say that “the developer decided to expand the area nearly 200 percent”.

The author then states that “to date, the quantity of natural resources to be consumed by Port City has not been disclosed accurately”. This is plain wrong. The SEIA clearly states that the sand requirement for the project is 65 million cubic metres and not 200 mn cu m as alleged by the author. The author also states that granite material will be obtained from the hill country. This is wrong as the SEIA study clearly specifies that granite will ONLY be obtained from quarries in the Colombo and Gampaha district. Also this is not an unprecedented value of the country’s natural resources as alleged by the author. The specified quarries from which granite would be obtained represents only about 5% of the approved quarries in the Colombo and Gampaha districts and the sand obtained is only 17% of the dredge-able sand in the identified area of 200 square kilometres.

If the author reads sections to sections of the SEIA, it is mentioned in detail how the various infrastructure requirements for Port City will be obtained. For example, if the author had read these sections, she would have learnt that Port City was not going to rely on the old Colombo sewerage disposal system as alleged, but connected to the Asian Development Bank funded Greater Colombo Wastewater Management Project (GCWMP), which is intended to modernise and expand the Colombo sewer network over the next 5-7 years and also completely curtail the thousands of metric tonnes of raw sewer annually discharged to sea presently.

Then, without quoting the opinion of any expert or explaining her qualifications, the author concludes that the Port City project would affect the “western and southern coast line including Panadura, Angulana, Mount Lavinia, Uswetakeiyyawa, and up to Negombo, which are important towns and tourist beach resorts”. It is scientifically proved using mathematical modelling and very clearly stated in SEIA of 2015 that there is no impact whatsoever in this area, particularly since the net sediment movement is from South to North and as there can be no coastal erosion when dredging sand from the distance and depths stated above.

The author then mentions that there will be toxic heavy metals from unprocessed industrial waste. Again she is ignorant that the Port City Master plan, which has now received Preliminary Planning Clearance from the UDA, does not include any industrial factories. This too is clearly stated in the SEIA.

The author also quotes from an article written (regrettably not by an economist) regarding the high opportunity cost of sand and quarry material used for the project. We wish to clarify that Sri Lanka currently uses only about 200,000 cubic metres of sea sand per annum for the construction industry. In the 200 square kilometres identified for sand dredging for the purposes of Port City, the remaining sand in this small area is adequate to meet more than 1500 years of Sri Lanka’s annual demand for sea sand. Further, the Port City project is using only 44% of available reserves in just 11 licensed quarries identified in the SEIA study out of 212 quarries in the Colombo and Gampaha districts. Therefore, by applying the conventional definition of opportunity cost of material used, it is negligible, and far outweighs the economic benefits envisaged from Port City, which are elaborated in Chapters 1 and 2 of the SEIA.

Other errors and omissions in the above mentioned article are too numerous to mention and does not warrant a response.

- Nihal Fernando
Project Director (Colombo Port City); Dy. Director General/ UDA

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