• The community says the two public participation meetings held on March 7 and April 11 were primarily public relations exercises
A section of Watamu stakeholders has opposed to the establishment of the Sh28 billion Palm Exotica tower in Watamu. The Watamu Association, local community groups and the Kilifi County Alliance are concerned about the viability of the project.
Locals and environmental organisations are questioning the effects of the high-rise tower and are seriously concerned about the implementation of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment for the project.
The concerns, which have since been forwarded to the director general of Nema, include lack of meaningful public participation in the granting of change of user and approval of the scale and scope of the project.
In a report signed by the chairman of Watamu Association, Sir Michael Norton-Griffiths, the groups say there is a danger of significant cultural, social and heritage impact.
They also cite environmental impacts on the Watamu Marine National Park from the disposal of waste and building detritus in the local environment.
They are also worried that there is a threat of overwhelming local infrastructure, such as roads, accommodation, health and services, including water, electricity and waste networks.
The community also says the two public participation meetings held on March 7 and April 11 were primarily public relations exercises.
“At both meetings, the PE-ESIA team generated completely unrealistic expectations about the benefits to be gained from the PE project in terms of jobs and development, to the extent that any alternative or dissenting proposals, however mild, were shouted down,” Sir Norton-Griffiths said.
He said the project is inappropriate for the area as it will change and dominate the skyline of the surrounding and destroy its manor attractions as an area of outstanding beauty. Watamu is a renowned tourism destination that has won awards for its white, scenic beaches.
“The project will fundamentally transform the nature of the Watamu community, which is still that of a quiet, low density, residential tourist destination built around a Marine National Park and a traditional coastal fishing village,” the chair said.
Norton-Griffiths said the ESIA should develop compelling arguments as to why the project should be permitted to inflict such change on the community in Watamu. To them, the high-rise tower will have serious security threats and make it a target for terrorists.
Once the project is completed, the Watamu stakeholders argue that property values within a large radius of the building will be negatively impacted from privacy, as every private residence and hotel within sight will be overlooked by this building.
The high-rise building, they say, shall create a shadow that will affect properties for up to 2km as the sun moves around the tower. The sunlight reflected from the tower, they said, will also negatively affect properties.
The Watamu community, in another report, also said the tower will disturb turtle migration, nesting, migration of dolphins and birds. They called for a serious study to be done.
“The project will result in a huge increase in visitor numbers, potentially 1,500 per day, into the Marine Park and Watamu beach. The capacity to absorb such an increase is very doubtful,” the report said.
On infrastructure, the locals fear that the tower shall overwhelm the existing power, water roads, health accommodation, waste management, and firefighting and security networks.
“To be successful, the project will have to make major upgrades to all service networks,” they said.
The Palm Exotica project proponents said they would require only 10 per cent of water from Malindi Water and Sewerage Company, and the rest would be obtained from water harvested from two boreholes.
However, the stakeholders also said the current electricity in Watamu is inadequate to meet the demand, with interruptions, phase failures and low voltages experienced every day.
They also want a comprehensive waste and water management study to be carried out and a policy developed before the building design is finalised.
“All waste disposals have to be off-site, raising huge risks of contamination and damage to the local environment,” the local community groups said.
Another concern raised about the project is the possibility of failure due to financial and technical aspects. Stakeholders say if the project is abandoned before completion, it could be a complete disaster.
Already, they said, there have been complexes abandoned along the Coast, from Mombasa to Malindi.
Edited by Tom Jalio