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UNREGULATED ECONOMY = DEGRADED ENVIRONMENT BY Cathal Healysingh

posted 21 Sep 2016, 12:08 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 21 Sep 2016, 13:26 ]

Cathal Healy-Singh is a Civil and Environmental Engineer by training with twenty-four years of experience combining technical, socio-economic and environmental aspects of development in management.

He has worked with donor and other multilateral organisations, national governments, private sector, local elected village councils, and community based organizations, including indigenous peoples, in all thirteen members of Caricom.

Our weak "socio-economic" condition, a current talking point of mainstream media, is also reflected by our degraded environment.  Armed with weak legislation (Environmental Act, 2000), a timid regulatory "Authority" was always destined to fail at ensuring our "environmental well-being" - an obscure concept despite the endless talk, talk, talk of "managing a balance" between economic activity and environmental impact.

After a century of harvesting petroleum hydrocarbons we are now a "mature energy province", this just means our oil/gas is running out and becoming more and more costly to harvest. We have poisoned fish, polluted waters and pauperized a once thriving sector. Now the fish are sick in La Brea, sick from oil. There is not yet proof of source - crude spill, refined spill or dispersed after big spill (17th December 2013). But there is oil in the bottom feeding fish. Anywhere from 0.5g/kg to 2.4g/kg - a drop to a few drops in every kg. The poor eat catfish and are vulnerable. The State says the dead fish are discarded catch. This can't be true. By-catch does not reach the shore.

This is another consequence of having an unregulated economy when it comes to negative impacts on public and environmental health. It is grim because the State feels the need to practice damage control rather than confront the problem in a transparent way.  Unregulated land based mineral extraction has had the same effect - degraded watersheds, life-less rivers disadvantaged communities and major losses of biodiversity. The mainstream political-business class is unmoved, unfazed.

Successive Energy Ministers responsible for mining accepted "life time membership" from the Quarry Association - a reward for shielding the sector from environmental and social obligations that would have been expected from an industry, which if unchecked, would have had, and has had, catastrophic impact on our drinking water supplies. This has passed unnoticed, without a whisper. 
ACONO SAYS NO!

On Friday 16th September quarry developer, Blue Diamond Engineering Ltd., had paid consultants Eco-Engineering (who were hired by ALCOA to deliver the Chatham smelter) host a meeting in Maracas Valley to tell the public of their plans to quarry in the Acono-Caurita watershed. This is their second attempt. The community held them back in 2007 when the political class opened the doors to the destruction of the Northern Range by quarries. 

About 150 plus persons came out to the public consultation at the Maracas Valley Community Center, despite it being 5pm on a Friday evening. This demonstrates the importance of the consultation to residents. People came from Acono and the wider Valley. 

Their voices were unanimous: "Acono and Maracas Valley people are stridently opposed to Blue Diamond or any new quarries and want the existing quarry operated by Coosal to be fixed"

By "fixed" it means that Coosal needs to re-engineer operations to meet the discharge standards set out in the EMA's Water Pollution Rules so that the river that runs through the watershed where the quarry is located can be redirected (as originally intended) into WASA's Acono Water Treatment Plant. This will add water into the local supply system and help relieve the chronic water shortages experienced in Acono. 

Under no circumstances should Blue Diamond be given permission to establish a quarry in the Caurita Watershed as this will pollute the river water making it unusable. Caurita residents, some 2000 persons, depend almost exclusively on the water in the River. There should be no ambiguity now. The Blue Diamond quarry developers were advised to arrest and terminate their project. There was unanimity in this regard. The EMA needs to take note. 

Coosal needs now to take urgent steps to
 
1) allow the river in the quarried catchment to return to sufficient quality to allow that water to be treated by WASA. 
2) urgently implement best practices on his quarry. 

It should be noted that there were also loud calls for Coosal to be shut down and the Valley be free of all quarries. 

There were also calls for a broader, long term and sustainable approach to infrastructure and development planning in the Valley. Finally, there were many calls again from Acono for recreational grounds to be created within Acono so that the youths have a safe and dedicated area for football, basketball and other forms of sport, and not have to play in the road and risk being knocked down by vehicles 

To avoid the problem of polluted freshwater our political class pulled out the "desalination" option committing large amounts of energy to separate salt from water in 
Image result for COOSALS LIMESTONE QUARRY IN ACONOthe polluted Gulf, and handing out long-term lucrative 'take or pay' contracts to the lucky contractor. "Water security" and "energy security" are clearly anathema to our political class. 
We are in a 'post-civilization' mode in God's favorite twin-island State. We have given the proverbial 'finger' to Nature and the climate that preserves Her. Our obsession to preserve the plantation economy which concentrates and exports wealth for a few and creates dependency for the majority has been the hall mark of our times. Our colonial constitution remains the same 54 years after Independence. 
All the consultations of the previous Administration yielded naught. Nothing! But alas there is no "boom" on the horizon. And there will be none to come. Global capitalism collapsed almost a decade ago. This system of concentrating wealth, creating wars and forcing open markets everywhere is in decline. No amount of money printing at the 'Fed' (US) can recover this.

CHECK OUT THE TIMELINES

1) The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) received 39 applications for new quarries since the beginning of 2015.

2) On 15th March, 2015 Coosal's Acono Quarry applied to the EMA for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) to quarry an additional 78.8 hectares (almost 200 acres). On 22nd May 2015, the EMA issued Coosal permission for this without requiring any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). 

3) The chain of communication between the EMA and Coosal shows that the EMA upheld a request by Coosal to keep information on "production of material" (presumably the amount to be extracted) confidential.

4) In May 2007 Caribbean Quarries Limited (CQL)) applied for a CEC for a 19 acre quarry between Coosal and Ortinola (run-off from the proposed location would have discharged into the Ortinola River upstream of WASA's treatment Plant. CQL engaged Eco-engineering to do the required EIA. There was a hostile opposition to the new quarry from the Acono community demonstrated at the Public Consultations. 

5) On 11th May, 2015, Caribbean Quarries Ltd re-applied to the EMA for a CEC for a 7.3 hectare quarry (about 19 acres). CQL requested that the EMA keep confidential (not allow public access) to their proposed "environmental management systems".

The EMA denied the request. In considering their application, the EMA requested that CQL submit additional information including "that the neighbouring landowners carrying out subsistence agriculture on lands surrounding the proposed project site, residents along Acono Road and other stakeholders be informed about the proposed project and given the opportunity to share any opinion of the proposed activity".

6) On 29th March 2015 Blue Diamond Quarries Ltd. applied to the EMA for a CEC to operate a quarry immediately behind (east of and adjacent to Coosal's existing quarry, accessed via Caurita Road). On 29th March 2016 BDQ reapplied to the EMA for a CEC for the same quarry identifying Eco-engineering as their EIA consultants.

7) The BDQ "project area" is 100 acres of which 65 acres are to be mined and 35 acres to be retained as a "buffer zone". BDQ has leased this land from Viking Caribou Holdings Ltd which had itself attempted to get permission for a quarry at this location in 2007 but withdrew after seeing the community opposition faced by CQL.

COMMENT

1) Coosal is supposed to have applied for a Water Pollution Permit for river discharges from current operations (he has actually claimed the whole river flowing past his quarry polluting it and preventing it from being directed through WASA's Acono Water Works resulting in a near 50% loss of water supply). It would be interesting to follow up on this.  

2) It is not clear what Caribbean Quarries are doing now.

3) BDQ environmental consultants are apparently actively carrying out the EIA.

4) We know from experience that Coosal would prefer that no other quarries be given permission to operate in Acono.

5) We know that the Acono and Marcas Valley community oppose any new quarries and ALSO oppose any expansion of Coosal. In fact this community wants Coosal to be regulated such that some restoration of Acono River water quality is possible as well as restoration of areas already quarried. While this is highly unlikely, the Water Pollution Rules offer some window to scrutinize the impacts of Coosal.

6) The EMA's official internal operating procedures require that when the EMA makes a decision on whether or not to require an EIA for an activity that requires a CEC, that they give reasons. The process for decision making is laid out in their Practitioners Guide" and "Standard Operating Procedures". There is no evidence on file to suggest that the EMA followed their own Guide and Procedures in approving Coosal's expansion

As for Acono quarrying, Coosal got his 70 hectare expansion approved by the EMA (my estimate is that he has 1000 acres currently under quarry) without environmental assessment.

A small but growing number of people are responding in their own back yards, communities and towns by growing food and feeding themselves. They are attempting to avoid intake of the massive unregulated import of pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified pro
duce and seeds - the silent killers already in our midst for years. (To this our political-business class is again unfazed). 
We hear so much talk every day on the radio, everyone defending either PNM or UNC. This has obscured the fact that they both have approached the problem in the same way and neither has a solution. While I pray that our political class evolves, I do not hold my breath. 

The UNC-COP has to rid itself of the corrupt elements responsible for the loss at the last elections. The PNM need not be afraid of criticism either. Fear not truth. Go and pull up your garden flowers my friends and plant food. Catch and store your rainwater. Speak with your children. The time of responsible governance is upon us. Not by choice but necessity. Speak up!

 

Image result for QUARRY IN ACONO
In 2007, there were protests against Coosal's Quarries by Acono residents. 












In 2016 residents protests against Blue Diamond Quarry




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