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TOCO PORT – WHAT IS IT FOR? By Cathal Healysingh

posted 29 May 2020, 11:47 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 29 May 2020, 11:51 ]
COVID halts $million Toco port | CNC3
If the primary purpose of the proposed Toco Port is bunkering supply of fuel for oil tankers, then the location becomes questionable and most likely unsuitable. Heavy oil/gas based on-shore infrastructure should arguably be confined to where it already exists, down South (from ecological point of view).

If Toco Port's primary purpose is transportation, tourism, economic activity in the North East and connectivity with Tobago then it must make economic and common sense. How will it pay for itself since money is to be borrowed to build the Port?

How can it be conceptualized, designed, built and operated to maximize local content, and ensure it is the right fit? Yield the maximum positive socio-economic impact? What is the obligation of the Environmental Management Authority’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment in determining this?

In post-CV19 development we need to put resource security and availability above purely market based interests (including wild ideas without being subject to cost-benefit analyses). One such wild idea would be a heavy oil/gas based industrial port at Toco storing 3/4 million gallons of diesel and other fuels to service passing industrial scale oil/petrochemical tankers, under the guise of local economic development and cross-island connectivity.

If this is the case, it would remind me of 2004 when 1000 acres of pristine lands in La Brea were clear cut to make way for Union Industrial Estate. At the time of clearing the type of industries to be located on the Estate were not yet declared. It turned out an aluminium smelter was to be built at Union (by ALCOA). On closer inspection, ALCOA declared the space too small and started to eye up Chatham.

The 'slim fit' Chinese ALUTRINT then became the preferred option (after clearing of the site). The Environmental Impact Assessment for establishing the Estate was prepared by the Institute of Marine Affairs. In the end the project failed because of its unsuitability in that location. The court found "procedural irregularities" in the decision making process at EMA, and, in hindsight, there would not have been enough gas for ALUTRINT far less ALCOA, or both.

In my view, the Toco port will prove catastrophic to village life, fishing and the pristine quality of the surrounding waters and ecosystems if its core purpose is industrial. Because of this, the project should be subject to a cost benefit analysis. Since the applicant is the state, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) can insist and government should agree, that sharing the economic logic is reasonable prior to the EMA issuing environmental compliance.

If the project is not economically viable without the fossil bunkering facility, then it may not be socially and ecologically acceptable as is. It would need to be reconceived and redesigned to ensure local 'content' in local economic development and connectivity with Tobago.

Our position is not of course anti-development but one of appropriate development. This is political. Judging from the record, it would take sustained representation by CSOs to have this view considered prior to award of Environmental Certification by EMA.