Thursday, February 22, 2018

Experts start highway review


review leader: Dr James Armstrong

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At least 12 local and regional experts from various disciplines have signed on to review the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway to Point Fortin and two more experts were expected to join the team yesterday.

This is according to Dr James Armstrong, head of the independent committee.

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Armstrong said the review had already begun of relevant documents pertaining to the now controversial portion of the multi-billion-dollar highway in a bid to end any further friction between environmental activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and the Government.

Kublalsingh, head of the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM), embarked on a 21-day-long hunger strike from November 15 to December 5, in order to impel such a review.

"Some people started work already," Armstrong said.

He said the information provided by the National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (Nidco) has been disseminated to the various disciplines electronically. The committee was given 60 days to review the project and produce its findings to the public.

"Sixty days is tight," Armstrong said.

He said the 60-day countdown began when the agreement was signed between the Joint Consultative Council for the construction industry (JCC) and the government on December 5 and up until Thursday he was still getting relevant documents to review.

"I have been reading steadily for the past several days," he said.

While Armstrong said he has read and digested almost all the provided documents, he has not yet found the social impact assessment or the hydrological study among the documents.

"Some of the documents requested have not been seen. They could be embedded in the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). There is some technical stuff embedded there or Nidco may not have provided them to us just yet. But there are a number of specialists who know what they're looking for and social impact assessment people who do this as a profession will know what to look for," he said.

So far, the committee has only reviewed documents and information provided by Nidco but plans are in place to advertise for statements from residents and members of the HRM.

"Some of Nidco's documents include comments and statements from members of the Highway Re-Route and some videos of stakeholder meetings," Armstrong said.

"I have not met with Dr Kublalsingh yet. I believe he's still recuperating, but I will meet with him in due course."

Armstrong said forming the committee was difficult only because it was hard to find people untouched by Kublalsingh's hunger strike.

"The documents and the reading is the easy part. I've read through the largest document, about 286 pages, in one night," he said.

The independent review committee includes Frances Ann Hansen-Lewis as a local consultant for the environmental aspect. She will be joined by fellow Trinidadian Eden Shand and regional consultant Jamaica-based Elinor Jones who heads up Environmental Solution Ltd in Jamaica.

A sub-committee has also been set up for the hydrological, water resources and drainage review headed by Marjorie Critchlow while for planning and settlement issues Grace Le Fouris and Ivan Laughlin will lend their expertise.

With regard to social impact assessment, the independent committee has retained HHB Associates head Louis Bertrand and Barbadian Janice Cumberbatch.

Peter Harries will assist with archaeological issues and Ken Subran with the land valuation. Michael Toney has been retained to assist with economics and the cost benefit analysis.

Armstrong said he approached two other people to help with traffic and transportation but they have not confirmed yet.