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Aripo Savannas Highway Case
No excuse for Ignorance

No excuse for Ignorance

Date: February 27th 2018

Dear Editor/Newsroom,

Dr. Rowley has encouraged lawlessness and disrespects his office when he broadcasts falsehoods about the Toco Manzanilla Highway. The Prime Minister in his address at the PNM’s public meeting in La Horquetta Regional Complex on Thursday 22nd February, 2018 made very personal attacks against our Corporate Secretary, Gary Aboud.

FFOS is a recognized public spirited body.

Before Dr. Rowley makes uninformed and derogatory statements he should be aware of the twenty years of FFOS advocacy against illegalities in quarrying, air pollution monitoring (in the Beetham area), illegal mountain removal in Maracas by Kallco, fish processing smell in Sea Lots, squatters representation in Las Cuevas, pipeline risks in Guayaguayare, back-filling in Carenage and elsewhere, mangrove degradation in Invaders Bay and Aripero, to mention a few. FFOS have been recognized by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest Court of the land, as a recognized public interest body with over 20,000 followers. In over eight legal matters FFOS have directly defended or participated in the defence of the legislated procedures embodied in a special majority Act, the Environmental Management Act of 2000. Indeed in one matter involving the Privy Council Ruling on the Water Pollution Rules, the Prime Ministers very own appointed Chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board, Dr. Terrence Farrell stated “the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea…must be complimented for sticking to its guns on this important issue and getting the right outcome. Our society is the better for it.”

Dr Rowley is wrong.

Dr Rowley is reminded that FFOS have never been against any extractive or infrastructural project to enhance the standard of living of our citizens including the construction of any highway. Why is Dr Rowley saying we want to deprive those in the East Corridor, Maracas or Tobago of their developmental aspirations?

FFOS continues to support development, connectivity and road infrastructure that is well thought out, is in full compliance with the law and does not cause irreversible, irreparable damage to our designated protected scientific reserves and our environmentally sensitive areas and species. We have, from inception in 1997, been relentlessly committed to “the development of Trinidad and Tobago in a sustainable manner that does not deplete our national resources for future generations”. For the record, these are the words of our own PNM when the Environmental Management Act was first passed in our Parliament in 1995, a Parliament in which Dr. Rowley was a member and vociferous supporter of the Environmental Management Act.

Broken Laws

Dr. Rowley is aware that there was no public consultation on the draft Terms of Reference (TOR) which is the blueprint/guideline for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and is required by Law. Dr. Rowley knows that a faulty TOR leads to a faulty EIA which leads to a faulty Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC). Is our PM encouraging lawlessness by permitting the flagrant violation of our laws? Is he compounding this encouragement by refusing to be silent to allow our judicial process to determine whether our Government (under his stewardship) has broken the very laws it has vowed to uphold?

The PM, through his entourage of advisors must know “the facts” that the highway has already violated the EMA’s approval and bulldozed through the buffer zone? Why has he mislead our nation by stating that “We are building a highway even further away than the train line” and that “we have complied with all of the laws”?

According to Section 4 (4.3) of the Highway CEC, “the Applicant shall maintain a vegetated buffer at least 100 meters wide along the periphery of the entire site, especially along the northern, eastern and western boundaries”. The PM knows that this buffer zone has clearly been violated. The width of the buffer zone is from 5 meters to 50 meters at most. Can the PM advise us what enforcement action will the EMA take to address this breach in the CEC and why have they not done so already? Why would a PM mislead a Nation and bad mouth a recognized NGO?

“Nowhere to nowhere”

Can the PM explain why build this phase of the highway first? It is not even connected to any roads, stands alone and cannot be immediately used once built. This phase of the highway starts in deep forest 1/3 mile from the Cumuto road and ends in the Long Stretch Forest Reserve 2/3 mile from the Guaico Trace Sangre Grande (“Nowhere to nowhere”). Where will our exhausted treasury get the other 4.6 B TTD to complete the other two phases of the highway at a time when cancer victims cannot even get treatment and schools remain dilapidated? According to the Governments own Senior Council in court, they are “unsure whether the resources and funds will be ever be available in the future to complete the other phases of the highway”. Mr. PM, does this make sense to a nation on the verge of economic collapse?

The Toco Port

The PM has said the highway is to connect to a Toco port but how can we build a highway to a port that itself may not be approved by an “independent” EMA? Has the PM with his entourage of advisors even completed a cost benefit analysis of its profitability or feasibility and will that be made public? Has the PM considered whether the unused capacity of the other already built Ports on the Leeward Gulf of Paria can instead be upgraded and used at great national savings? Can the PM explain the sense of building a port on a rough windward coastline? Has he considered the impact of coastal erosion from heavy Atlantic wave action if a wide, deep channel is dredged for oncoming ships approaching the Toco Port?

FFOS supports the statement made by Dr Rowley however, that no citizen is above the Law while reminding him that no government is either. He should remember the words of Abraham Lincoln “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth”. We will continue to be the voice of the people and for the people with the fervent hope that the Rowley led government would strive to be a government of the people.

Terrence Beddoe, President Cecil Mc Lean, Vice President Gary Aboud, Corporate Secretary Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

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