Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Asa Wright knocks rush to control quarry

‘...Natural rain forest will be destroyed’

 STILL mindful of its battle last year with National Quarries Ltd (NQL) over the company’s increasing proximity in the Arima Valley, Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC)chairman Judith Gobin said yesterday the sanctuary is worried by the current rush of prospectors seeking to take control of State-owned Scott’s Quarry.

This follows the absence at NQL of a new board of directors and chairman, in the wake of last month’s firing of former chairman Mitra Ramkhelawan and the subsequent resignation of the board.

The AWNC and Ramkhelawan clashed last year when NQL reneged on a verbal agreement to stay off a portion of hillside facing the nature centre’s main gallery.

Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine was forced to intervene and stop NQL from excavating that area, where fresh ‘scarring’ had become visible from the binoculars of visitors in the gallery.

Noise from the quarry works had also become audible in the vicinity of the highly sensitive oil bird caves, one of AWNC’s biggest international draws.

“Had the ministers (Ramnarine and then Minister of Environment Dr Roodal Moonilal) not responded so positively and responsibly, visitors might today be gathered on the world-renowned verandah to watch and listen to dynamite blasts rather than viewing an array of birds in a panoramic view of tropical rain forest,” Gobin stated.

The Asa Wright chairman said the centre views the rush for control of the quarry “with grave concern and much trepidation”.

While the limestone to be removed from the quarry has been estimated in the hundreds of millions, Gobin said it is far less than the long-term, sustainable value of the natural rain forest that will be destroyed in the process.

“We are particularly concerned that the short-term wealth opportunities being sought will lead to massive destruction of the true value of our country’s natural resources,” Gobin stated in a media release, which was also copied to Ramnarine, Environment and Water Resources Minister Ganga Singh, Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma, Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Housing Minister Moonilal.

The AWNC wants Government to ensure that any new operator of Scott’s Quarry is made to apply for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC), given that the area is 150 acres, the amount stated in law as requiring a CEC.

The centre also wants to be included in “all discussions on the future of Scott’s Quarry and other quarries in the Arima Valley” and for discussions to begin on the future of quarrying in the Arima Valley.

The State should also engage in more environmentally sensitive developments, including the application of appropriate development standards, and least destructive quarrying operations in the Northern Range and other valleys. 

“The AWNC is prepared to assist with this,” Gobin stated.

Conservationists continue to urge tighter regulation of the quarrying on the North Coast, warning that destruction of the rain forests on the mountain will make the country more vulnerable to flash flooding and contribute to global warming.

With four large limestone quarries in operation in the Arima Valley, Gobin said the lasting destruction is obvious in ‘played-out’ pits, where the vegetation has been unable to regenerate to its previous state.

Those areas also show no attempts at remediation through replanting, she said.

The AWNC is home to at least 170 bird species, some of which are endangered and/or protected, making it illegal to kill them or destroy their young or eggs.

The centre’s reserve also includes the world-famous William Beebe Tropical Research Station at Simla, where ground-breaking research has taken place on Trinidad’s unique guppy population and where the virgin spring has been damaged by quarrying, Gobin said.

Sharing the valley with quarries has taken a toll on the communities as well, Gobin said, which rely on the single Arima-Blanchiseusse Road for transport and who pay the price for the road being destroyed by a constant parade of trucks.

“This main road is often covered in mud, which is more of a nuisance during the wet season, making the road often impassable and, of course, very dangerous,” she said. 

This is in addition to pollution of the watercourses and the Arima River by quarries, along with coating of surrounding vegetation and noise from rock blasting and crushers.