Development or Destruction?

Date: April 16th , 2019

Dear Editor/Newsroom,

Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) never objected to any development including the Toco Port. We promote sustainable development guided by holistic planning with independent feasibility studies and cost benefit analyses. On Friday 12th April 2019, the National Infrastructure Development Company Limited (NIDCO) held its first statutory public consultation for the Toco Port. The FFOS Programme Co-ordinator attended the public consultation and asked the panel to clarify the statements made in their presentation on choice of location, as it contradicted an Express article dated 17th July 2000, which stated that the 1988 Feasibility Study conducted by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) concluded that “Toco offered the worst possible option, Balandra was deemed the best”.

The panel said they were unaware of that article and simply reaffirmed that Toco was the best location. Why is a 32-year-old feasibility study which condemned Toco being contradicted today? Shouldn’t a new feasibility be done which reflects current climatic conditions? Arun Buch, the consultant who developed the conceptual design for the Toco Port, stated at the consultation that Toco was “void of marine habitat” and the impact of the port will be minimal. The late Professor Julian Kenny challenged this unfounded assumption and stated that Toco Bay had the “richest communities of reef building coral communities” and “had a well-developed back reef with prominent boulder corals which were probably a few hundred years old and is rich in octocorals”.

Professor Scott Eckert, the world’s leading authority on the leatherback turtle once stated that “Galera Point is a hotspot for the critically endangered species, the leatherback turtles and that putting such a port there will lead to large mortality rates through boat strikes”. Where is our concern for these prehistoric and environmentally sensitive species (ESS) which nest on the north east coast? Have alternative small scale, low impact ports like those between small islands of Greece and New Zealand been considered? Where is the balance between development and the environment? In 2000, residents and community groups like Stakeholders Against Destruction (SAD) for Toco stood firm and protested against an oil terminal tanker bunkering facility and ferry port of this magnitude.

They insisted on the need for development in keeping with the environment and not disrupting natural coastal ecosystems. Sadly, this time no residents questioned the environmental impact of the port on Toco’s unique and vibrant ecosystem. Amongst the lush, green and breath taking landscape and coastline there are two banners picketing “Rampanalgas wants the port” and “Cumana wants the port”! They appear to be orchestrated blind support since during the consultation residents were unaware of basic information such as the location of the port.

How many remember our current Prime Minister stating in Parliament on Friday July 28th 2000, that “this Toco Ferry Port has nothing to do with the people of Tobago and Toco”? What has changed over the past 19 years? Perhaps it’s our respect, value and appreciation for our natural environment or maybe it’s our ignorance for the ecosystem value of the natural treasures of Toco? The residents were continuously bombarded by technical and scientific information and had no concern that over 50 heavy trucks will be traversing their already dilapidated roads every day for the next 3 years to facilitate the construction of the port. Can the Toco Road withstand this stampede? Trinidad will be the first to develop a port on the windward coastline. Generally, port facilities are never (if ever) built on the windward coast in the Caribbean due to powerful seasonal north east trade winds and swells.

Has this been considered? Are the residents even aware that the proposed Valencia-Toco hybrid alignment is now bypassing the villages of Salybia, Rampanalgas and Matura? Did the residents hear clearly when Mr. Buch stated that “the harbour is not designated as a refuge” during a hurricane situation? What would this mean for fishermen vessels and other marinas docked during the hurricane months of August – October? Are the residents even concerned if their beaches will disappear like that of Clifton Hill Beach in Point Fortin due to improperly planned oceanographic modelling and dredging? Have these supportive residents anticipated their pristine waters being contaminated with hydrocarbons from spills, leaks and emissions? Did an oil spill contingency plan prevent the 377 oil spills which occurred in Trinidad over the last 4 years?

Mr. Buch also stated that there are no ports in the North, East and South of Trinidad and there is “something” in Galeota. Is NIDCO’s consultant even aware that this port was proclaimed by the then Minister Kevin Ramnarine as “quality infrastructure that will attract foreign and direct investment”. Even the then Chairman of the National Gas Company (NGC) stated that the Galeota Port will “allow for expanded exploration and production of oil and gas in Suriname, French Guiana, and Guyana”. Eight years and TTD 1.3 Billion dollars later, what happened to the developmental promises of the Galeota Port? What are we to expect for Toco when similar promises are being made now? FFOS sympathise with these hopeful residents and agree, Toco like most rural communities, has been severely neglected and is in need of development. The residents welcome the Toco Port hoping that their village will obtain basic necessities. But has this conceptual model ever worked in rural Trinidad? Look at oil rich Guayaguayare, La Brea or Point Fortin; decades later these communities are still underdeveloped with few, if any, primary stakeholder jobs. Will Toco be any different?

Are the residents ready to blindly welcome a Port which will potentially change Toco’s coastline and beach landscape, affect their quality of life, their fishing, their livelihood and their future with the promised benefits that are dangling before them?

Gary Aboud
Corporate Secretary

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