Denying the Public Right – FFOS calls for the Prime Minister to apologize to our Nation

Date: March 30th 2019

Dear Editor/Newsroom,

On 6th March 2017, the Ministry of Works of Transport (MOWT) submitted an application to the Environment Management Authority (EMA) for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC – 5117/2017) for the construction of a roadway from Valencia to Toco (49km). The MOWT proposed this alignment to start at the end of Churchill Roosevelt Highway continuing east, connecting to Antigua and Barbuda Road through the Valencia bypass and running south of the existing Valencia road until it meets the existing Valencia road just east of Tattoo road and continues north of the existing Valencia and Toco main road and ends in the vicinity of Toco Bay.

On 20th March 2017 the EMA informed MOWT that an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) would be required.

On 18th April 2017 a Draft Terms of Reference (TOR) was issued to the MOWT. This Draft TOR was only circulated to 14 governmental agencies for consultation. No members of the public, resident stakeholders or non-governmental organizations (NGO) were even consulted! On 26th May 2017, the draft TOR was finalised.

On 20th November 2017, the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) informed the EMA of the intention to modify the scope of the roadway project which included a 2-lane rural arterial roadway with 2m wide shoulders on both sides (80km/hr speed) hybrid alignment from Ojoe Road, Sangre Grande to Toco Bay – which includes a shorter roadway of 43km comprising of the widening of 23km of roadway (4 segments) and construction of 20km on new roadways (6 segments). The new hybrid alignment will now bypass the communities of Matura, Salybia and Rampanalgas.

There are many predicted social and environmental impacts such as: a) Loss of Ecosystem Goods and Services – 70% of the land cover along the proposed route is forest, and the Carbon stock is conservatively estimated at 63,521.6 tonnes. 46.2 Ha of Forest Reserve (30ha of the Valencia Forest Reserve and 16.2ha of the Matura Forest Reserve) will be dereserved to facilitate this new hybrid alignment. b) Loss of Habitat and Fragmentation – eight (8) Environmentally Sensitive Species that will be affected by this proposed project- Trinidad Piping Guan/Pawi, West Indian Manatee, The Ocelot, Leatherback Turtle, Loggerhead Turtle, Green Turtle, Hawksbill turtle and the Olive Ridley Turtle c) Impact to watersheds and Aquatic Fauna d) Air and noise e) Increased number of people entering the area for recreational and access to the proposed port f) Increased ecological pressure from anticipated squatting along the new road. g) Loss of homes, community and residential displacement

On 23rd November 2018, NIDCO requested that the other “segments with lower potential impacts” be removed from this CEC application as NIDCO “are of the view that environmental management in these localised areas can be adequately designed without the need for an EIA”.

On 3rd November 2018, the EMA defended the public right and wrote and informed the MOWT that they are “concerned that this continued excision of segments of the proposed project will ultimately reduce the scale of extent of the project and consequently obviate the need for an EIA and …thus depriving the public its statutory right to actively participate in the decision-making process”. The result, the EMA did not “accede” to MOWT’s request to excise sections of the roadway. (Please see attached for letter).

The EMA must be congratulated for taking a firm and independent approach by denying the NIDCO request and for recognizing, upholding and protecting the public right to be consulted.

Several serious implications have arisen as a result of the high and influential Office of the Prime Minister (PM) prematurely holding a ribbon-cutting, sod-turning ceremony for a project that is not lawfully approved.

  1. Given that the EMA is an independent, statutory body, and that the CEC has not been granted, why has the ribbon cutting ceremony been held, and why have preliminary works started?
  2. Is the PM not aware of the Law?
  3. Is it not immoral for any PM to use undue pressure on contract employees of the EMAs CEC Clearance Unit to approve a project that may not otherwise be approved?
  4. Bearing in mind the Hansard recorded comments of Dr Rowley (when the then Government had proposed this project a decade ago) in relation to land displacement and state acquisition of private land is this same Keith Rowley, now a PM not bullying the EMA and denying the right of the Public to be consulted?

FFOS call on the PM to apologize to the Nation forthwith, and failing which, FFOS call on the PNM to remove Mr Rowley for an abuse of power, dereliction of duty and for a denial of the public right to be consulted, especially for those whose homes are to be bulldozed. FFOS also publicly call on the Chairman of the EMA to immediately file for an Injunction to stop these preliminary works.

When a holder of public office abuses power, it is the duty of every citizen to stand up and be counted. If we do not stand together as one in the face of illegality, or a bully, we will all continue to lose parts of our Liberty.

Sincerely,

Gary Aboud Corporate Secretary Fishermen and Friends of the Sea

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