Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 3rd 2014 Contents A6
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"I feel compelled to say the
environmental impacts have not
been properly studied."
This is the conclusion arrived at
by one ecologist who presented
information before the Joint Con-
sultative Council (JCC) on the con-
troversial Debe to Mon Desir leg
of the highway to Point Fortin.
He has requested anonymity, as
he works for an international com-
pany and both he and the company
are fearful of political backlash,
especially with the general election
less than one year away.
The ecologist has scoured
through close to 800 pages of Envi-
ronmental Impact Assessments
and supporting documents on the
highway, with emphasis on the
Debe to Mon Desir leg currently
being challenged by the Highway
He is concerned over how the
environment and wildlife will fare
in light of insufficient mitigation
to the potential hazards defined in
various reports connected to the
He said,"The question is not
whether the highway should be
built, the question is when we build
such highways and spend so much
money, that it is built without cre-
ating problems in the future."
But mega engineering projects
have been successfully completed
in environmentally sensitive areas
all over the globe.
For instance, Walt Disney World
Orlando has been built on swamp
Some writers also tell of New
Orleans, the sinking city, being
more like the world's most habit-
able swamp---and subject to years
of flood engineering.
ecologist---What is it with the Debe
to Mon Desir leg and does the
Highway Re-route Movement
(HRM) have a point?
He said many of the impacts will
be permanent and unavoidable but
the residual impacts of the project
was deemed to be low.
"I was looking at the mitigations
(for impacts ranked as high). For
instance, the sensitive and endan-
gered species, when I looked at the
mitigations, there were very few...
yet the ranking was downgraded
to low," he explained.
The Institute of Marine Affairs
documented eight such impacts:
1. Loss of habitat
2. Fragmentation of wetland
3. Altered hydrological conditions
from inception and diversion of
water sources to wetland
4. Loss of permeable surfaces
5. Increased flooding potential
6. Increased pollution from vehi-
7. Increased colonisation of inva-
8. Increased squatting
There has been discord between
the HRM and the National Infra-
structural Development Company
Ltd (Nidco) on the issue, with the
former saying the route passes
through wetlands and the latter
denying this---contending that the
land-form has since changed.
"Neither is correct, because the
assessments done by the IMA, the
Meteorological Society and the EIA
point that it is really in the areas
which drain into the wetland itself,"
the ecologist said.
According to the Institute of
Marine Affairs (IMA) study, he said
the highway's alignment in the
contentious segment passes
through three major wetland types
where the black mangrove (Avi-
cenna germnanis) is the most pre-
Oropouche River, Coora River and
the marshland at Puzzle Island.
The EIA records several rare and
endangered animals at risk in these
habitat, including Sulphury Fly
Catcher (rare), Blue and Yellow
Macaw (endangered) and the Scar-
let Ibis (vulnerable).
But the ecologist believes not
enough protection is being afforded
to the country's rich wildlife.
"When you look at the endan-
gered animals listed in the EIA,
which one has been protected by
the EIA? None. In all cases it said
they could not be protected and
there will be a natural loss based
on the project."
Another organisation to add
expertise on the project, he said,
was the T&T Meteorological Soci-
ety, which expressed concern with
potential flooding and landslides.
It said the removal of vegetation,
cutting of slopes, back filling and
paving would magnify the drainage
"If you are not careful, the work
will affect where run off drains...
it drains into the Mosquito Creek
area, which is a big fisheries bed
But isn't there an organisation
founded in 1995 responsible for
protecting the environment?
The Armstrong Report cata-
logued the EMA's assessment of
the EIA, declaring it deficient in
the following ways.
1. There was insufficient detail
with respect to the socio-cultural
environment and more details were
2. There appeared to be a lack
of adequate consultation with agri-
cultural land owners.
3. There was no clear provision
for the compensation of people
who stood to lose property.
4. There was no indication of
arrangements for individuals,
households, businesses and farmers
to be displaced by the right-of-
way (ROW), by resettlement or
According to the JCC's findings,
the EIA was submitted to the EMA
in February 2009 and was rejected.
But the CEC was granted one year
later, even though the concerns
were not addressed, according to
It wrote, "The CEC was issued
on April 20, 2010, although the
POINT HIGHWAY CONTROVERSY ---PART 2
Impact will be big---ecologist
administrative records at the EMA pro-
vided no additional information to
determine the basis of its decision.
"The opinion of the HRC is that the
EIA was not acceptable and should have
been rejected and returned to the appli-
cant. It seems that the EMA relented
without having the applicant provide
The ecologist pointed out that the
JCC's ability to get conclusive evidence
may have been stymied because of a
lack of proper records on the project.
"There are few things on record... in
fact, the JCC could find no record of
any submittals after the EMA requested
further information, yet the CEC was
still approved," the ecologist said.
He said the present predicament is
a serious situation and laments that the
truth is not being told.
"If you know now in hindsight that
some of the impacts, based on future
determinations, are bigger than you
thought... wouldn't it make sense to
take another look rather than make a
big mistake for the nation?"
Like many others, the expert agrees
that the highway is a must, but mit-
igation ought to be strengthened.
Workers for OAS Construtora carry out preparatory work on land for the controversial Debe and Mon Desir leg of the Point Fortin Highway in Oropouche in
August. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH
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