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Why the Port City must be terminated

Written By Freedam to the nation resettlement of IDPs on Friday, March 13, 2015 | 9:08 PM


We, a broad coalition of civil society groups, environmental organization, trade unions and
religious bodies, demand that the Colombo Port City Project which violates Sri Lanka's
environmental laws, is highly likely to exacerbate the ongoing degradation coastal and inland eco
systems and which will adversely affect the entire population must be terminated immediately.
The Port City Project, which also compromises Sri Lanka's sovereignty, will greatly benefit China
while Sri Lanka and its citizens will have to suffer the consequences of the project for centuries to
come. Not only will the project irreversibly damage Sri Lanka's environment, but it will adversely
affect millions of Sri Lankans directly and indirectly for generations. Through this project, which
former President Mahinda Rajapaksa entered into with China for both diplomatic and for purely
personal reasons, China will also gain unrestricted access to Sri Lanka's territorial waters. This
alone will rightly anger many of our immediate neighbours in perpetuity.
Although the new government of President Mithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil
Wickramasinghe promised to stop the project and this week declared that the project is temporarily
suspended, we remain deeply concerned as the final outcome. A few weeks ago, President
Maithripala Sirisena in a visit to New Delhi agreed to allow India to also be a stakeholder of the
project. We believe that continuing to engage India and China merely to fulfill narrow geopolitical
goals will only lead to the destruction of Sri Lanka's natural resources and adversely affect our
citizens. The new government, which the people elected to make decisions for the country must
make decisions based on the future of the country.
The impact on Sri Lanka's sovereignty
The Port City is a 233 hectare project, equivalent to 575.7 acres. This project area is divided into
two parts. One part 170 hectares (420 acres) is to be used for commercial purposes. The other 63 ha
(156 acres) will be used for infrastructure such as roads. Out of the designated commercial area,
108 hectares (266 acres) will be given to directly to China. 20 (50 acres) forever and 88 (217 acres)
on a 99 year lease. Thus Sri Lanka will receive only 62 hectares (153 acres) of commercial land,
out of which the new government is threatening to give a portion to India. Thus the people of Sri
Lanka, you and I, will ultimately pay for the construction and maintenance of the Port City, while
China and India will reap more than half the benefits. This is perhaps the biggest economic
assassination ever undertaken by the previous government, which is now in danger of being
continued by the new government.
Furthermore, the Chinese company that is building the Port City states that they have the right to
call for investors to operate in the lands that will be given to China. The project has also been given
a 25 year tax concessions through the Strategic Development Projects Act. The Chinese company
states that they plan to invite investors from Sri Lanka, Asia, Middle East, Europe and US. By
allowing China to call for investors to operate on Sri Lankan soil, the sovereignty of the nation is
further compromised. In addition, China will be given the chance to engage in fishing activities in
Sri Lankan waters. Of the various projects Sri Lanka has carried out with foreign aid over the past
40 years, all of which came with strings attached, this project is without doubt the most dangerous
threat to our sovereignty, ever.
The background of the project
The first draft of the Colombo Port City Project was completed in 1998 when this was proposed as
a part of Colombo Metropolitan Regional Structure Plan in a bid to create a metropolis by 2030.
The project was drafted by CESMA, a Singaporean company; however the project was abandoned
due to the cost of the proposed break water, which was extremely expensive.
In 2011 China Communication Construction Company Limited presented the Colombo Port City
Development Project to Sri Lanka Ports Authority. An observation committee appointed by the
Cabinet has assessed the project proposal in September 2011. This committee instructed the Sri
Lanka Ports Authority and China Communication Construction Company Limited to enter into a
Memorandum of Understanding in September 2012. The China Communication Construction
Company Limited then presented a comprehensive project plant to the Ports Authority. The
Technical Committee appointed by the Ports Authority assessed the proposal and presented a
Technical Evaluation Report to the Observation Committee appointed by the Cabinet. The
committee forwarded a report stating that Sri Lanka Ports Authority and China Communication
Construction Company Limited should enter into an agreement with the approval of the Attorney
General. The committee also recommended this to be carried out as a Strategic Development
Project.
By January 2014, the Cabinet approved the recommendations of the committee. In September
2014, the Secretary to the Ministry of Roads, Ports and Naval Affairs signed an agreement with
China Communication Construction Company Limited, which also signed an agreement with the
Ports Authority on September 16, 2014.
The issues of the project process
China Communication Construction Company Limited, the relevant ministry and Sri Lanka Ports
Authority presented the EIA of the project for public opinion on September 2011. It is a surprise to
many as to how this happened. By presenting the EIA for public opinion simultaneous to China
Communication Construction Company Limited presenting the project proposal to the Ports
Authority, it is evident that the project was formed as a secret agreement between the Rajapaksa
administration and the Chinese government. This also indicates that the authorities have
commenced the Port City Project without following the steps that should have been taken during
the planning stage of a project.
The preliminary feasibility study was conducted in 2010; this is prior to China Communication
Construction Company Limited presenting the Port City Project Proposal or before it made an
agreement with the Ports Authority. Meanwhile the Coast Conservation Department and the Ports
Authority instructed the Moratuwa University to come up with terms of reference and conduct an
EIA. This sequence of events is highly problematic because it is usually the project implementer
who commissions the preparation of an EIA. However even before China Communication
Construction Company limited even presented a project proposal, the Ports Authority had
commissioned an EIA.
Establishing that the project is illegal
The Coast Conservation Department opened the EIA, which was completed by April 2011, to the
public on September 2011. However as the project expanded the Coast Conservation Department
requested the Ports Authority to expand the EIA. The expanded EIA was handed over to the Coast
Conservation Department on September 2013 by the Ports Authority. After considering the EIA the
Coast Conservation Department gave conditional approval to Ports Authority to carry out the
project in October 2014. However currently it is CHEC Port City Colombo which is affiliated to
China Communication Construction Company Limited that is carrying out the project. The CHEC
Port City Colombo is currently developing the Port City, yet approval was only given to the Ports
Authority to carry out the project. This is a further example demonstrating yet again the illegality of
the project.
Another example. On September 2014 the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau issued a permit to
excavate sand to the Ports Authority. The Bureau gave approval to excavate sand before the Coast
Conservation Department gave conditional approval to the project, based on the EIS. This sequence
of events shows that the EIA was carried out merely as ‘eye wash’ while the project proceded to be
implemented in accordance with the whims and fancies of the senior officials of the Rajapaksa
government. It is also another example of who leading government institutions have carried out the
political needs of the previous government, ignoring EIA procedures and the environmental laws of
their own departments and the country.
Further compromising the actions of the Coast Conservation Department is the fact that the
department can no consider two documents, the 2011 EIA and the ‘add ons’ in 2013 separately and
give approval to a project. If there was a need to include additional information, it indicates that the
original EIA was insufficient, incomplete or in other easy weak, whereupon the Coast Conservation
Department has the responsibility and authority to reject such a document. Sri Lankan
environmental laws do not allow an institution to request additional information if the initial EIA is
weak. The department has violated the Coast Conservation Act and the national Environmental Act
by giving conditional approval to the project, based on an unsatisfactory EIA.
The weaknesses of the EIA
The EIA presented by the Moratuwa University in 2011 was extremely poor quality, technically
inadequate and clearly incomplete. It appears as if the University conducted the research to satisfy
the desire of former president Rajapaksa. As environmental organizations collectively we have
analyzed over 50 EIAs and this is by far the weakest EIA we have ever seen. Even the weak EIAs
presented for Uma Oya Project, the Weerawila Airport and the Mattala Airport were not as
incomplete, technically unsound and self evidently biased as this EIA. The above mentioned EIAs
at least attempted to show that they were impartial and scientific, however the EIA on the Port City
Project states that there is no environmental impact from the project! This is possibly the the first
EIA in the world which has stated that no impact on environment is going to arise from a
development project. We are deeply dismayed by the behavior of researchers from Moratuwa
University.
The basic facts in the EIA report are wrong. The EIA says that the Port City will be 300 acres. The
website of the project says that it will be a 233 hectare project, which is 575.7 acres. It is surely not
difficult to understand why no one takes the EIA report seriously at all.
Another problem with the EIA is that there is no analysis of alternative sites. According to
universally accepted standards, researchers preparing an EIA choose three separate sites and decide
on which is the better place for a project. Thus the policy makers know what place suits a project
better and where the environmental damage will be less.
As mentioned above even the most abysmal EIA reports, propping up the most unacceptable
projects, attempted to put at least a veneer of respectability on their assessments and achieve a
degree of objectivity by having a team of experts that are necessary to analyze important elements.
Another example: if a project is being carried out in a coastal area a team conducting the EIA
would have a marine biologist who would inspect the impact of the project on aquatic life. The EIA
team brought together by Moratuwa University did not include anyone with a background in
marine biology and as a consequence the impact of the project on aquatic life – a project that is
proposed to be built in the sea - was not studied at all.
The Port City project is being implemented in an area famous for its rich marine eco system, in
addition the location is an important marine archeology site, as Colombo has been a port for
millennia. Although international standards and Sri Lanka's Antiquities Ordinance demand that
how archeological sites are affected by a project should be evaluated, adequate attention has not
been paid to this aspect of the project in the EIA. A separate, independent study by the Department
of Archeology reveals that a number of artifacts have been found at the location where the project
is being developed. The study by the Department of Archeology said that ancient cannons have
been found at the site. None of this is mentioned in the EIA. Instead of conducting a study on
marine archeology, the researchers from Moratuwa University have listed antiquities found in
locations in nearby land based sites.
By giving conditional approval for a major project, despite the glaring short coming of the EIA, the
Coast Conservation Department has failed in its statutory duty to protect Sri Lanka’s coastal
resources and by so doing contributed to future widespread degradation if not the destruction of
marine resources and literally undermined the future wellbeing of the citizens of this country.
Although less than 10% of the project has been completed we already see grave environmental
effects of the project including erosion, reduction production and siltation. The Coast Conservation
Department is responsible for this.
The harmful effects of the project
In the last three months, fishermen who operate in the vicinity of the project from which sand is now being
excavated and transported have lost fishing equipment over Rs 4 million due to damages. In addition the
fishermen are not allowed to operate within 10 kilometers of 'Thamba Gala' where sand is being excavated
although this is a high yielding fishing area. Due to the excavation of sand and the disturbance to the
sediments a number of breeding sites of fish have been destroyed and already fishermen have noted a
decline in the population of fish. Thus fishermen from Negombo, Wennappuwa, Uswetakeiyawa, Hendala,
Panadura, Wellawatte, Mount Lavinia, and Moratuwa have incurred grave financial losses. Dwindling
incomes of coastal families will lead to social issues.  
The area surrounding 'Thamba gala' is being excavated throughout the day and the excavated sand is being
transported to the construction site, which is seven kilometers away, using three ships. Fishing is
prohibited in the excavating and transporting areas affecting 30,000 coastal fishermen.
According to the initial plan 30 million cubic meters of sand is required. However since the project
has been expanded the necessary quantity of sand has drastically increased. Considering the
damage already done due to sand mining, the extent on the environmental degrading is
unimaginable if the project is implemented fully. Due to the massive excavation of sand, rocky
reefs, coral reefs and sand dunes are risk of becoming increasingly smothered or unstable. Since
reefs are areas in which fish and other aquatic species breed, this is highly likely to severely affect
the population of these species. These consequences of the project will contribute to the destruction
of livelihoods for thousands of fishermen. It will also affect the nutritional levels in the country as
fish is the main source of protein for many Sri Lankans.
Moreover 16 million cubes of granite is needed for reclamation process. There is no mention of the
EIA where the project will obtain the granite, the ability to obtain such a large quantity, the
ecological impact of excavating the granite or the inconvenience caused to the people living in the
vicinity of granite mines In Western Province many quarry owners are already violating the terms
of their licenses, excavating ever larger quantities of granite, because of the insatiable demand for
granite from the Port City. The overexploitation of granite resources has caused grave
inconveniences for those who reside near the quarries.
By attempting to excavate this vast quantity of granite the geology of the country will destablize
leading to increased natural disasters in sensitive areas. Already Sri Lanka has seen an increase in
land slips in the central province due to mismanagement of the environment. If granite continues to
be excavated on such a large scale in these areas, the entire hill country maybe at risk of becoming
destabilized. A granite excavation lowers ground water, which in turn may lead to a shortage in
drinking water. There is already a high demand for granite due to a number of development projects
in the country. This demand will only increase in the future. After the reclamation work for the
project is completed, large buildings need to be erected at the Port City. These buildings will
require yet more massive amounts of granite. This will automatically lead to overexploitation of
granite, which will destabilize the entire country and lead Sri Lanka to natural disasters on
unimaginable scales.
According to experts following the commencement of the Port City Project wave and sea current
patterns have already undergone changes. The Colombo Port itself is at risk due to changes in the
pattern of sand flowing in and around the Colombo Port. With the change in sediment transport and
wave patterns the operations of the Colombo Port maybe be severely affected, which will adversely
affect the operations of the port and will cost Sri Lanka greatly. However no attention is paid to
these consequences of the Port City construction by the EIA.
There are many recent examples of this from other parts of Sri Lanka. By expanding the Colombo
Port, Dikowita fishing harbour is continuously filled with sand greatly affecting the operations of
the fishing harbour. More recently a lot of media attention has been given to a breakwater
constructed near the Unawatuna beach. At only 300 metres long and only one metre high, this
breakwaters is held responsible for a dramatic increase in erosion of a large stretch of the beach
famous among tourists. A similar fate befell the coral reefs of Hikkaduwa when a small jetty was
built further along the coast. However the EIA pays no attention what so ever to these highly
probably eventualities.
In the opinion of many coastal dwellers, the Port City Project construction has already exacerbated
coastal erosion. Areas to the south of the project including Panadura and Beruwala and to the north
including Uswetakeiyawa and Negombo are facing grave coastal erosion. These are highly densely
populated urban areas, with large numbers of houses, hotels and restaurants close to the beach.
When the beachfront is reduced it adversely affects tourism industry and fishing communities
living along the coast. The setbacks suffered by these industries will affect the entire economy and
will give rise to various social issues.
The Kelani River carries a significant amount of sediment when it enters the ocean at Modara.
These sediment naturally flow into the sea and drift along the coast with the sea currents in shallow
seas. This is an area where one can find most of the breeding sites for crabs and lobsters. With the
changes in wave and current patterns, this process becomes disturbed threatening the survival of
these species and this has affected fishermen who harvest the crabs and lobsters mainly for tourist
hotels.
When one attempts to reclaim seas to create artificial islands, even following proper procedure,
there is significant damage to aquatic eco systems. When United Arab Emirates created palm
Islands, the construction gravely affected aquatic eco systems. Commenting on the environmental
damage the environmental website the Green Prophet said that 'The construction of the Palm
Islands has had a significant impact on the surrounding environment, resulting in changes to area
wildlife, coastal erosion, alongshore sediment transport and wave patterns. Sediment stirred up by
construction has suffocated and injured local marine fauna and reduced the amount of sunlight
which filters down to seashore vegetation. Variations in alongshore sediment transport have
resulted in changes in erosion patterns along the UAE coast, which has also been exacerbated by
altered wave patterns as the waters of the Gulf attempt to move around the new obstruction of the
islands.' If this can happened when proper EIA procedures are followed, one simply cannot imagine
the extent of the damage that will be caused by the Colombo Port City project, which did not follow
EIA procedures at all.
Due to our continuous protests and lobbying, the new Prime Minister promised the nation that the
Port City project will be terminated when they were elected to power. However there is now a
grave concern regarding whether this promise that was made to the people will be kept. China
Communication Construction Company Limited has planned to invest US $ 1.4 billion for this
project. It is the biggest Chinese investment in Sri Lanka. There are ominous signs that the new
government is beginning to attempt to justify the project, despite the currently suspended activities.
We continue to insist - as we did before the elections - that this is a completely illegal project. We
continue to insist - as we did before the elections – that the actual sovereign, economic, social and
environmental costs of the project fat outweigh the entire speculative benefits advance by the
project and its supporters.
Despite ample evidence of the massive potential damage, there are still certain interest that claim
the project should be continued, arguing that 10% of the project is already completed. This too is an
utterly is a false statement. It has only been three months since the construction commenced. Only a
small portion of the most basic foundations and construction has been carried out. Of these most are
preparatory access ways. In truth less than 1% of the total project has been completed and yet even
at this stage the damage caused to the environment has already been unacceptable. What must be
done is to terminate this fraudulent, illegal and wholly unnecessary project immediately. The laws
of the nation permit and demand this. We propose the new government undertakes to systematically
dismantle the 1% of construction work that has commenced since January and use the materials that
are recovered to protect and restore areas affected by coastal erosion, under the supervision of the

Coast Conservation Department.
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