An aerial view taken on Sunday of the ongoing construction of the Berridge Trace Underpass, part of the highway that connects the Mon Desir Overpass to the South Trunk Road and beyond. - Photo by Dexter Philip.

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EMA should be reviewing project

...not JCC, saysUWI senior lecturer

By Camille Bethel

Questions have been raised on why the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is not involved in the technical review of the highway to Point Fortin that Government is allowing the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) to conduct.

Addressing a panel at yesterday's forum, hosted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, on "The San Fernando-Point Fortin Highway", UWI senior lecturer Rajendra Ragoonath said: "I cannot understand why the JCC is doing a technical review of the proposals. They have no statutory authority to change anything, if any change has to take place it has to come from the EMA.

"The EMA has to amend the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC), so why is this project not back with the EMA to do a proper technical review. If the JCC finds something is not right with it, and perhaps says we need to make some changes, this has to then go back to the EMA, they will have to accept that we made a mistake, maybe we did not.

"So, fundamentally, I believe what we have done is taken authority from the supposed independent statutory authority and put it in the hands of this committee rather than try to deal with the problem, which brings us to the question—is the EMA really functioning in the way they ought to, and if they do, we will not need a Wayne Kublalsingh or to talk about voodoo law and voodoo economics."

Ragoonath said he made a trip to the EMA to better inform himself on the issue of the highway re-route after hearing so much about it. "I went to the EMA and sought to get some documents, and mention was made of a report by Trintoplan as part of the reports that were submitted to the JCC, just to note that this report was done in June 2009. Subsequent to that, you must note that there were several comments made about this Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before it came to the EMA."

Ragoonath then quoted from a WASA report on the EIA that stated: "In the area of hydrology, a map presented with sites of the highway has not been accurately presented and this has resulted in a fundamental error.

"This is what was there. This is the information that was before the EMA when dealing with a (CEC) application that was filed in 2006, but yet a year later, in April 2010, two months before an election, rushed off to give a decision on this important matter."

Ragoonath said when he visited the national register, where all documents are filed relating to the project, he saw no document that explains how the concerns expressed by WASA were dealt with.

"So I cannot understand on what basis the EMA took that decision in 2010 to grant a CEC... as far as I know EMA is the only statutory body in Trinidad and Tobago entrusted with the authority to ensure environmental clearance of these types of projects."

Director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies Sunity Maharaj added that there is a breakdown of trust in the society and no one is willing to take anyone's word for granted, including the professionals.

"And if we are in a position where political appointees are on every board with simply a mandate to obey, the EMA is also a board of politicians," she stated.

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