JEP feature Saturday 11 December 2021.
‘Today, we can all see and experience the visible results of waste management, reclamation and scouring of the beaches. Looking west from Grève d’Azette… an artificial ‘headland’ has appeared.
This disguises a massive legacy for future generations to deal with
Jersey urgently needs an environmental regulator.
The current system has clearly failed to protect the Island’s precious marine ecology and will affect generations to come, says SOS Jersey founder David Cabeldu.
I WOULD never have thought while razor fishing, prawning, or (if lucky) teasing a lobster from its lair in the pristine and verdant rock pools and gullies at Havre des Pas and La Collette in the 1950s and 60s, that much of my adult life would be spent, fighting for our Island’s fragile marine environment.
But, often with the help of a band of dedicated colleagues and supporters, I have dedicated decades to trying to ameliorate the ecological damage that has been caused to these areas of childhood exploration and adventure, against a background of population explosion, poor planning, commercial ‘ambition’ and, until fairly recently, a disturbing lack of understanding by many politicians of its importance.
Local residents had been firmly against the infilling of the bay at Havre des Pas since the plans for a ‘Marina Village’ were published by Les Pas in 1986. A protracted period of intensive lobbying from both sides ensued.
A petition of 12,000 signatures was collected by Save our Shoreline, (now called SOS Jersey) an independent environmental ‘watchdog’ group formed initially by local residents and other Islanders concerned about the effects of reclamation, and this petition was presented to the States by Deputy Jerry Dorey on 12 April 1994, together with a proposition which called for the bay to be given SSSI Status.
After several years of negotiations, the bay was included in the Island’s South East Ramsar Area, which was finalised in 2005, making it a Wetland Site of International Importance.
The States had begun reclaiming the foreshore in earnest in the 1960s and 70s, acquiring the land from the Crown. Jersey now has a waterfront, which is mainly used for commercial development, much of the area administered by the States of Jersey Development Company, a government-approved quango.
Further areas, including land West of Albert and the Waterfront, were acquired from the Crown by buying the land for the public by contracts passed respectively in 1983, 1985 and 1989.
The Les Pas legal battle and eventual land deal, expertly played by Advocate Richard Falle, is fascinating in its complexity and forms part of our SOSJ report, The Queen’s Gift.
The Havre des Pas bay issue, however, gained national media interest, and the Sunday Telegraph sent a team over to interview both sides. In June 1994, the BBC also sent a researcher from Countryfile with a view to filming a programme.
I declined to be interviewed, fearing that the Island’s tourist industry would suffer with the adverse publicity, but in hindsight I sometimes regret that the episode was never made.
Today, we can all see and experience the visible results of waste management, reclamation and scouring of the beaches.
Looking west from Grève d’Azette, and for those who arrive by ferry, an artificial ‘headland’ has appeared.
This disguises a massive legacy for future generations to deal with, for hidden away out of sight beneath this hill and further north, under the large mound at the foot of the incinerator, separated from the sea only by a porous ‘rock bund’, are sealed, layered pits of hazardous waste, including toxic ash from the old Bellozanne incinerator, which was originally dumped, unsorted, straight on our beaches.
The pits are fitted with pipes to periodically drain the toxic ‘liquor’. This fluid is taken to Bellozanne, treated and returned to the sea.
Readers of a certain age may remember the German ‘pill box’ on the end of the old breakwater at La Collette.
It has in fact not moved, but is now some way inland and can be seen in place just before the Fuel Farm as one drives through La Collette on the way to the green-waste tip.
This piece of Occupation history perhaps serves to make one realise how much of the Island’s once rich foreshore has been buried, 32.8 hectares to be exact, valued at a mere 84 pence a square metre in August 1993 and deemed by an independent valuer to be ‘unproductive agricultural land without the benefit of planning permission’.
The same land would today be deemed of international importance as it forms the eastern boundary of the Ramsar Area.
SOSJ have over the years proactively offered environmentally sound, practical solutions to some of the problems that the Island faces.
For example, it brought over a UK firm that specialises in treating asbestos waste ‘in vitro’ (by extreme heat) so that it becomes harmless ‘glass’ and does not have to be buried in expensive sealed pits.
Unfortunately, this idea was not progressed by TTS, cost being seen to be an overriding factor. Had it been trialled and found to be successful, there would have been no need to dig the hugely expensive sealed pits to bury the waste, thus offsetting the cost of the process.
In 2011, Deputy Kevin Lewis, the then new minister of TTS, agreed with us that leaving 220 rusting containers full of asbestos contaminated material on an exposed headland was not best practice, and eventually arranged to have the containers moved inland and the contents buried in a sealed pit.
Not a perfect solution, but better than none.
Perhaps the most exciting challenge for us was finding a potential and natural solution to the annual sea lettuce ‘blight’.
Confident that the problem was caused by nitrates entering St Aubin’s Bay, mainly from the Bellozanne Sewage Treatment Works outfall pipe at First Tower, in the summer of 2016 an SOSJ team spent several weeks testing outflows on the south coast and established that the culprit was indeed the First Tower outflow, and not, as the chief executive officer of TTS suggested on a BBC radio interview, imported from France.
Only then did the requested data from the department arrive, showing that in fact, nitrate amounts had been exceeded by as much as five times the legal limit for some years.
SOSJ requested the use of a seawater reservoir situated at La Collette in which to grow on juvenile native oysters (spats).
After a year the oysters would be placed in suitable areas in St Aubin’s Bay out of harm’s way in cages below the low-water mark, and be serviced by sea.
The oysters were to be supplied by a local aquaculture farmer who wanted to reintroduce the Jersey ‘native’ oyster (Ostrea edulis), fished to near extinction in the 1800s. It had been shown elsewhere that these oysters ingested large amounts of nitrates; much of the nitrates in St Aubin’s Bay accumulate over the shallow sloping sand. Lying water heats up in the spring and summer and this, combined with high nitrate levels, triggers the ulva blooms.
Unfortunately, support was not forthcoming and ultimately the farmer sold his stock elsewhere.
SOSJ are still of the opinion that this could be a potential permanent and environmentally friendly cure, and hope that the Environment Department will revisit this plan in the near future. It would surely be a better option than the current one of moving some of the weed away to be washed back up, and scraping the beach with heavy lorries?
While politicians come and go, SOSJ have for nearly three decades, conducted talks, worked with universities and schools and carried out research, most recently working with Hautlieu A-level students and Portsmouth University graduates, completing a ten-year study on heavy metals in shellfish.
However, we also carefully document troubling events. A compilation of our work spanning the past 20 years was recently presented in a Power Point summary to the Scrutiny Liaison Panel, following an invitation to SOSJ by Senator Kristina Moore.
The presentation covered issues in environmental protection over this period, the reluctance to act in some circumstances, the lack of clear regulations, and the failure to pass ‘inconvenient’ evidence for potential prosecution in a timely manner to the Attorney General.
This included, for instance, the rejection of an analysis by the States Analyst of seawater samples which SOSJ members took from the Elizabeth Marina in 2019 following a breach in the Horizon excavation, to better understand and measure levels of pollution.
We had thought that our data set and methodology were robust, and we were careful to have the analysis done locally, but it was dismissed by the departmental investigators with little accountability or transparency.
The States Analyst’s work was rejected on the grounds that his tests did not comply with ‘Environmental Management Standards’, a 2008 EU directive that forms no part of Jersey Law.
++ We suggest that a truly independent person, with the power to require the disclosure of evidence and take witness testimony, is needed to assess various sides of an issue and reach conclusions/recommendations. ++
The conclusion that SOSJ came to, following each of the incidents documented over the past decade, particularly with regard to projects that are ‘government supported’, indicated that the appointment of an independent environmental regulator (or commissioner) is long overdue.
Unlike the finance industry, which is independently regulated, the Island’s Environment Department has historically been allowed to be responsible for regulating itself as well as wholly-owned government subsidiary companies such as the States of Jersey Development Company and Jersey Water.
This arrangement has conveniently enabled major government projects to progress without too much regulatory interference (eg Waterfront developments on toxic landfill), while deferring the major expenditure necessary to prevent and stop ongoing environmental pollution.
As JDC plans progress for yet further development on the Waterfront (which is in effect a toxic waste dump), tighter regulatory controls must be introduced and properly implemented, as it will necessitate the excavation, safe transfer and burial in lined pits of 233 cubic metres of toxic landfill; the equivalent of 93 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
La Collette is nearly full, so where will it go? Inquiries made recently by SOSJ to the director of waste management at La Collette confirmed that this amount of toxic waste will not be able to be buried there.
Before any work can start, this problem must be solved.
This is not a call for a huge independent regulatory department investigating each and every environmental incident, but one for a professional independent office working outside government to ensure that the Island has robust, up-to-date independently monitored and enforced comprehensive regulations.
These should be separate from opportunist political influences and should apply to both individuals and government departments.
The current Environment Minister, John Young, is to be congratulated for initiating a process to bring in regulatory changes, and a position for a director of regulation for environment, housing and infrastructure is shortly to be filled.
What will be needed, surely, is the confidence that if another environmental accident or situation occurs, then an independent person, qualified in environmental pollution and construction can immediately be called in? It may be that, as in the case of a planning inspector, such a role be created as and when necessary, thus saving costs.
In any case, in most situations, our Environment Department should be capable of bringing in the expertise.
SOS Jersey’s long-held view, with which the current Environment Minister until recently agreed, and which the Jersey Ramsar Management Authority recently voted to accept in principle, is that Jersey urgently needs an independent environmental regulator.
The current system has clearly failed and will adversely affect generations to come.
Dave Cabeldu, MBE
NOTE: David Cabeldu founded Save Our Shoreline Jersey in 1992.
SOS Jersey is an NGO that works to safeguard Jersey’s unique marine environment against inappropriate development and pollution. David started out in local bands, eventually becoming a peripatetic music teacher. He founded Sounds Workshop (now St James), a rehearsal and recording facility for young musicians.
David recently published The Fishing Cats of Fort d’Auvergne (and Other Tales) about his early years and how he became inspired by Jersey’s unique marine environment, which he is passionate about protecting.
Jersey urgently needs an environmental regulator