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posted 10 Jan 2015, 14:00 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 10 Jan 2015, 14:01 ]
Eugene Reynald wrote the letter published below to Mr. Hayden Romano, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the
Hayden Romano
Environmental Management Authority (EMA).

Mr. Reynald is associated with the Guave Road farmers who have been resisting the plans of the Chaguaramas Development Authority to turn the North West Peninsula into a pale imitation of a Florida theme park which would result, inter alia, in the destruction of the Cuesa River Wetlands.

Mr. Romano, before taking up his appointment as CEO of the EMA was the General Manager Quarry Operations of the ANSA McAL Group.

Dear Mr. Romano,

Re: CEC No. 4087/2014, Guave Road, Chaguaramas.

Further to our meeting of the 3rd December 2014 on the subject matter I submit the following as promised. The items in bold were our demands for holding our hand on taking legal action against the EMA (Environmental Management Authority) and persons employed therein.

a. The CEC (Certificate of Environmental Clearance) be immediately modified to allow work to proceed on the road only with all other works being suspended pending the outcome of current and planned court matters between the farmers and the CDA (Chaguaramas Development Authority) to resolve issues pertaining the lands at Guave road.

If any of these works are to be at all considered an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) and a full scope of works should be prepared and submitted for consultation with the farmers and other stakeholders. the reason for this is that all works - other than those to the road will result in i) considerable damage and losses to the farmers, ii) encroachment on areas that are recognised as wetlands by the EMA, iii) breaches of the CEC – as flawed as that may be, iv) conflict with decisions handed down by the court and therefore the probability of the EMA becoming liable for claims – if rulings are made against the CDA.

The reasons for this are obvious. The EMA should modify the CEC because the CEC as applied for and issued by the EMA is defective in several respects. Among these is that it is allowing for the extensive destruction of crops and farmland that lie outside the area covered by the lands on which the road works approved by the EMA is to be carried out.

It would be impossible to do the other construction works without effecting such destruction and the fact that no EIA was requested which would have given specific information from which this could have been deduced – even though it is very obvious, is the reason for this.

The “baseline study” of sorts, which in itself is alarmingly deficient, and other documents given to the EMA by the Engineers and the Environmental Consultants, did not indicate this nor did it indicate the extent of farming being done nor that there were parties/communities impacted by the proposed works - as has now become evident. The photographs/videos, writings and more than twelve Court Matters filed to date - with more to come, support all of the aforementioned.

The EMA should not be making decisions that can be construed as permitting the destruction shown in our photographs and videos nor which will result in action and activities that the Courts may find illegal. Any decision handed down by the Courts in favour of the farmers will have dire consequence for the EMA if at this stage the EMA cannot find a way to correct its deficiencies.

The onus is on the senior persons at the EMA, the Ministry Finance and the MPSD (Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development) to whose attention these matters are being brought to act or there will be legal and financial consequences to such persons who refuse to act - knowing the facts and their consequences in terms of financial losses to the exchequer. There will of course also be significant losses to the EMA and by extension the State if the Courts finds in our favour.

b. The farmers be allowed unfettered access to the lands they are farming all of which lie outside the reserve allowed for the roadway as approved by the EMA.

This problem has arisen precisely because the construction site has not been defined and this in turn results from the lack of an EIA and public consultation. The Guave Wetlands which is the area where the farming is going on has been defined in a booklet prepared and published by the EMA itself.

The booklet speaks of the Cuesa River wetlands which would include other water courses - some of which flow through and across the wetlands into the Cuesa River. For obvious reasons the Wetlands do not and cannot consist of the Cuesa River alone - as seems to be the perspective of the EMA, it has to include the extensive wetlands serviced by the Cuesa River and other water courses which flow across these wetlands towards the river.

The wetlands of the river are known to all persons familiar with the area especially the farmers who at one time planted and harvested rice in these wetlands. To describe the Cuesa River as the “Wetlands” – as was done at the meeting, is therefore an uninformed statement.

If Dr. George Sammy and the EMA were intellectually honest and/or competent in doing their work they would have realised that the Cuesa River is fed by significant flows of water from the valley and hills lying to the east of Guave Road.

They would also have realised that these flows are the life blood of the wetlands and that the intention by these environmental experts to construct large reinforced concrete box drains to change and direct these flows would bring about the death of the wetlands, the degradation of its fertile soils and the end of life for the fauna existing therein.

The fact that the Engineer’s designs include such very large culverts and box drains should have told persons at the EMA and Sammy this. The CDA - staffed as it is by political appointees intent on pursuing their own personal and political agendas would not be aware of or concerned about such facts but one would have expected that Sammy and one or two technical experts at the EMA would have observed such obvious facts or would have consulted with persons who have been on these lands for more than 40 years - and others, to learn of this reality.

There are surveys called Tiles available from the Surveys Division that show some of these water courses and even the drawings of the Engineers show the location of large culverts under the road to facilitate the run of these water courses. It is absurd that all of these pointers were missed or even worse, ignored by Sammy and supposed experts at the EMA – and the fact that either may have been the case raises several questions.

Many of the Wetlands in the list of some 66 given in the Booklet published by the EMA are identified by the River or the coastal areas which give wetlands their character, characteristics and name. As such because the wetlands are described as “Cuesa River” in the Booklet doesn’t mean that the wetlands are the river – as was intimated at our meeting.

c. Signboards be established at both entrances to the site that give full information on all consultants, contractors and sub contractors working on the site.

There is a denial by the EMA that they are responsible for ensuring the posting of signboards but without such to identify the persons and personnel involved in the project one would have no idea that there is a project going or who is involved in it. Even if the EMA is not responsible for ensuring that proper signage is in place, it should include in its CEC - as a condition to the start up of work, that the Owner and his Contractor seek out and obtain the required approvals and conform to the required legislation on this and other matters.

d. All heavy equipment and trucks should carry the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the owners.

There are basic requirements for managing the activities of and movement of heavy equipment – which are stipulated in most CECs, regarding the carrying out of construction activities. What purpose does this serve if there is no way of knowing the owners of such heavy equipment?

An actual example of this is that the Contractor doing the project at Guave Road and destroying the crops and the farmland has consistently denied it is involved in the project. We have even been told that there are two Contractors with similar names in the country and it is the “other one” actually doing the damage to the Wetlands and our crops. Surely there is a responsibility here that begins with the EMA.

e. A HS&E (Health Safety and the Environment) officer should be placed on site and an HS&E manual prepared and submitted to the EMA for its approval.

There is again a denial by the EMA that is not responsible for HS&E as this relates to the site. The E in HS&E means Environment and this relates to the environment in and around the site and the special or general impact the construction activities have on the environment – on site and further afield.

For instance if the movement of trucks and equipment is creating i) dust and mud that affects roads and citizens off site, ii) off site traffic problems iii) danger to pedestrians iv) inconvenience to residents, etc, surely these are impacts that should be of concern to an environmental management authority? And surely such an authority should at least insist on these problems being mitigated and use their resources to police, caution on and enforce these and indeed all other environmental impacts.

The EMA is the first authority consulted in applications for the physical development of lands over one hectare or involving roads exceeding 1 km. There are other cases in which they are required to be consulted or, can be consulted on the direction/request of the T&CPD (Town and Country Planning Division). In granting a CEC the EMA is supposed to make clear that the CEC is not permission to commence the work on site and offer guidance/instruction on what other approvals should be sought as a condition to the commencement of such work – and to police for compliance regarding its CEC.

f. A representative of the EMA pay fortnightly visits to the site or be on call to pay visits if and when written complaints are received from members of the community or stakeholders.

Work on the site commenced before the month of November as can be seen from the dates on photographs on our Facebook page at “Guave road farmers Chaguaramas”. The EMA was clearly unaware of this on the date of our meeting which was the 3rd December 2014. From what was said the EMA only knew that work commenced when we wrote to them complaining of the destruction of lands at Guave Road.

Up to the time of our meeting which we requested - and since then, we have not seen a representative of the EMA nor have we heard from or been visited by anyone from the EMA. Surely negligence of some kind is suggested in all of this

g. No heavy equipment should be allowed onto lands outside the reserve allowed for the roadway as approved by the EMA.

If one were to be guided by the work defined in the CEC, the CDA should not have been about the extensive destruction of crops and land as we have shown on our videos and photographs. There is a clear breach of the CEC and work has to be stopped and the CDA penalised for the destruction it has carried out.

h. The scope of works permitted under the CEC for the roadway has been changed in certain respects by the CDA without the permission of the EMA. The requirement is that such changes to the CEC are to be approved by the EMA - and if such is not the case, the EMA has to take action. We would like i) the work to be stopped until all is regularised in accordance with the requirements of the CEC and ii) to be consulted before changes to the CEC are approved by the EMA.

The changes to the work include a revised roadway design and a proposed multi storey car park for some 500 cars. The latter is to be located in the wetlands. There are also plans it seems to do extensive reinforced concrete drainage works in the area designated as Wetlands by the EMA. The consequences of the latter have been outlined elsewhere in this submission.

i. The farmers and indeed the wider community should be consulted before any further CEC’S are granted by the EMA.

The negligence of the EMA in issuing CECs for areas in Chaguaramas without the need for an EIA and Public Consultation and not policing these projects for ensuring basic protocols as indicated herein are adhered to or itself not being present at Consultations is absurd, negligent and makes nonsense of the process of environmental management. To also deny - as was done at our meeting, that traffic and transportation issues are not part of the process of environmental management is also nonsense and personnel at the EMA has to be disabused of their clearly flawed perspectives.

The impact of what is taking place in Chaguaramas affects all communities along the Western Main Road – and indeed throughout the country. In this regard I am sure that the negligence of Sammy extends to not preparing or recommending the preparation of a comprehensive study to determine the impact of the CDA developments on the Chaguaramas Aquifer (which services thousands of homes in the north western peninsular) and on traffic along the Western Main Road. I shall be making a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) enquiry with regard to both these matters.

I look forward to your response at the earliest so we can instruct our Attorneys on a course of action in this matter.