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Body wants Debe project stopped

'Shortcomings' in Point Highway report...

By Kim Boodram

TOO many shortcomings in the impact assessments of the extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin have led the Highway Review Committee (HRC) to suggest that the Government halt the project.

The committee's report on the project, which is as yet unsigned by committee leader, the Joint Consultative Council (JCC), is yet to be published but has made its way into the public.

"Should the Government decide to proceed with the construction of the Debe-Mon Desir segment, the HRC is of the considered opinion that shortcomings resulting from the inadequacies of proper assessment of the likely impacts on the human and natural environment must first be determined and resolved," the report states.

The committee was given 60 days to produce the report and has in essence met the deadline—a demand that stemmed from massive protest by the Debe residents, who formed the Highway Re-Route Movement and stand to be displaced by the route chosen by the State for the highway extension.

In its executive summary and recommendations, the report advises the Government rethink its approach to civil society when planning projects of this magnitude, following what it sees as a lack of proper consideration and consultation with those to be affected by the highway.

The report also notes numerous outstanding requests from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for criteria on conditions mandated by the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC), due to a lack of detail presented at the time of application for the CEC.

The EMA should in future insist on the design and implementation of a "proper hydrological data monitoring programme" either before a CEC is granted or as a condition of the CEC.

"The HRC found that there were significant shortcomings which warrant further interrogation to determine the way forward," the 257-page report states and in addition, "the complex and sensitive issues involved in this project certainly could not be addressed within the confines of this 60-day review period."

With regard to the controversial Debe-to-Mon Desir link, the report states that parts of the relevant legislation need to be addressed, in particular, the EMA Act, the Town and Country Planning (TCP) Act, the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) and the Municipal Corporation Act (1990), "as a matter of urgency".

"A significant amount of work still needs to be undertaken to obtain approvals before any additional site activities are carried out," the report cautioned.

"It is recommended that no further work be undertaken on the highway site until all of the conditions contained in the CEC have been fulfilled, including the need for all plans specified in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be submitted to the EMA, and for approvals to be obtained from the relevant agencies."

Addressing the civil uproar over that part of the highway, the report stated:

"It is imperative that a proper Social Impact Assessment (SIA) be undertaken before a decision is made whether or not to continue with the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the highway given the potential for severe adverse impacts on the resident population and other stakeholders within the immediate and wider area of impact, including the potential severing of extended family ties."

Non-relocated residents, agricultural stakeholders who would be affected by the loss of their lands, as well as the non-relocated business people who would be affected by the Highway, also need to be drawn into the study, the report stated.

It added: "No further engineering operations are to be undertaken on the land at Petit Morne, Ste Madeleine, on which it is proposed to relocate persons residing in the path of the alignment until all necessary approvals are obtained from the relevant agencies."

Proper environmental assessments must include a hydrology and drainage report, the HRC has said and "a quantitative surface and groundwater hydrology model and study of the wetland as a hydrodynamic system should be undertaken in the public interest as part of Best Practice before an informed decision can made".

"An Environmental Economic Study of this project must also be undertaken to inform a decision whether or not to proceed with this Highway segment," the report said.

"This should include a cost-benefit analysis, comparing the economic costs of the various alignment alternatives that were assessed to demonstrate the costs of the adverse effects compared with the projected benefits."

The report also mentions the need for assessment of off-site impact, such as the extraordinary amount of aggregate that may have to come from the Northern Range to satisfy the project.

The report calls for the Re-Route Movement spokesperson on traffic to be drawn into the study and that highway improvement for the south-western peninsula be considered, to allow for the phased development of the transportation system—to avoid "overbuilding" the road network, to the detriment of surrounding lands.

"Finally, effective stakeholder participation is essential in the decision-making process," the report stated.

"The relevant agencies must ensure that proper consultation is carried out following effective communication of information to all stakeholders. What has transpired with this project may not have occurred if an appropriate process for incorporating stakeholder involvement was applied."

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