Sunday, February 25, 2018

Court ruling no excuse to carry on regardless

express editorial9

Donstan Bonn

 It’s hardly surprising that supporters of the protest against construction of the Point Fortin highway Debe-to-Mon Desir section would pounce upon anything looking like “proof” to justify extremist agitations by Wayne Kublalsingh and others. 

Dr Kublalsingh’s Highway ReRoute Movement (HRM) seized upon August 1 flooding in the area, as confirmation of their direst predictions. One resident, who also happens to be a member of the HRM, claimed it was the first time flood water had risen so high so fast—all because of obstructions newly blocking the flow into the Oropouche River. 

Construction work on the controversial section of the highway had caused the August 1 flooding, Dr Kublalsingh maintained. He charged that the Government’s refusal to stop the construction, as recommended by the 2013 James Armstrong report, was responsible for the flooding. 

Reports of flooding in the area, feared to be too ecologically vulnerable to bear the strain of highway construction, thus affords new grist for the propaganda mill of the Highway ReRoute Movement. Dr Kublalsingh and followers no doubt sincerely believe in their cause, for which he even risked his life and health, with a long hunger strike.

 Pressing to have work stopped on that highway section, the HRM people have undertaken dramatically aggressive and even legally questionable protests. A parallel attack on the highway project, prosecuted in the courts on behalf of the HRM, has also been defeated, with rulings by both the High and the Appeal Courts.

 The Movement has had its day(s) in court. Highway building having been legally validated, the work will continue over the Debe-to-Mondesir stretch. 

 The courts, having affirmed the Government’s right to proceed, protest actions designed to obstruct progress will no doubt draw law enforcement responses. Indeed, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has since ominously characterised the protests as intolerable “intimidation, bullying and flagrant violation of the law”. 

With disruptive protests presumably out of the way, the Government and the contractor gained no entitlement to carry on regardless. While the controversial highway is still a work in progress, it seems premature to point to rainy season occurrences, common to many parts of T&T, as “I-told-you-so” evidence of uncorrectably dire environmental effects.  

 Still, as work proceeds in the area HRM wants to remain untouched, T&T is entitled to expect due construction and remediation efforts to ensure against any nightmare scenario such as unstoppable flooding. The Armstrong report did find “several deficiencies” in the planning and approval of the project. 

 Nobody queries the potential benefits of improved road links between San Fernando and Point Fortin, and the spin-off development potential for previously remote and ignored rural areas.  But no excuses will be acceptable if, in the end, the supposedly improving hand of man fails to avert any environmental calamity, about which alarms have sounded long and hard.