CONSTRUCTION on the Golconda to Debe segment of the highway to Point Fortin has been relatively easy.
The highway impacted only one major road as the earth movers carved a valley through a teak plantation at Golconda Village, and across abandoned canefields to Diamond Village.
For the residents of Diamond living in the path of the highway where it crosses Papourie Road, they protested, were paid millions, and gave up their properties.
The remainder of the route to Debe was through land owned by former Caroni Limited.
Now that the State has found a way to remove the Highway Re-Route Movement's protest camp from the path of the Debe highway interchange, project overseer, the National Infrastructure Development Corporation (Nidco), says the Golconda to Debe section can be completed.
Progress has been so swift, that paving of the highway has begun in Golconda, and main contractor, the Brazilian firm OAS Constructora, has informed Nidco that the segment, scheduled to be completed May 31, 2014, will be completed no later that June of next year.
Phase two of the highway project, which Nidco says will cost $2.1 billion, is expected to be challenged in court by the Highway Re-Route Movement which plans to file action shortly seeking to stop the highway pushing through villages and wetland to Mon Desir.
The position of Highway Re-Route Movement leader, environmental activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, and several persons living in the proposed path of the highway, is that the economic, environmental, and social costs far outweigh the benefits of the highway.
Kublalsingh said the plan is to build a 9.1 mile highway across what is largely a lagoon, requiring a six to eight of 10 foot embankment four lanes wide, with a fence on either side, in addition to nine bridges, four major interchanges, a number of culverts.
He said the embankment would divide the lagoon into two, with surface water from as far east as Barrackpore travelling through the lagoon to the sea, being impeded, especially during high tide in the Gulf of Paria, which backs up into some parts of the mangrove system.
He said this would create permanent flooding, and permanent drainage problems; the cost of such drainage would be permanently incurred.
The impact would be felt by those who live in the lowland areas of the lagoon, much of it under sea level, said Kublalsingh.
He said the flooding would alienate thousands of acres of fertile agricultural land, some of which is fertile, as far as 15 feet deep. The highway fence would impede access from one side of the highway to the other, for citizens as well as farmers.
"A good and responsible government could use much of this fertile agricultural land to grow short crops, and rebuild a serious agricultural industry. In fact the Namdevco Market was not meant to be a retail market at all, but to service agriculturists in the Oropouche Lagoon communities and environs, by providing packing houses, wholesale facilities, warehousing and so on".
Kublalsingh said that three months before the Environmental Management Authority awarded the certificate of environmental clearance (CEC) for the Mon Desir to Debe segment, the Director of Drainage, the Head of the Water Resources Agency at WASA, and the EMA's own technical team asked for drainage studies to show how the Ministry of Works would mitigate the impact of the highway.
He said this was not provided, but the CEC was awarded on April 20, 2010, one month before the General Elections.
Kublalsingh said that when the Highway Re-Route Movement last met with the EMA, the EMA said there was no need for such a report before the award of a certificate, and all that was needed was to set a condition that the Ministry of Works deal with drainage.
"This seems illogical, since the EMA's own technical team requested a report on the drainage across the lagoon," said Kublalsingh.
He said that at the time research was done for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Debe to Mon Desir segment, 150 homes and 179 tracts of agricultural land were to be directly impacted.
Also directly impacted would be 13 businesses, a temple, mosque, church, an orphanage and other public buildings.
"The figure for homes has grown two fold because of new homes, and because many persons were left out and are now receiving letters of land acquisition," said Kublalsingh.
"We wrote to Nidco using the Freedom of Information Act for a list of directly and indirectly affected persons, landowners, businesses, home owners etc, and they refused to give it to us.They say that this is confidential. Many persons do not yet know if they would be impacted or not," Kublalsingh added.
Kublalsingh said no cost benefit analysis for the project, which, as State owned Petrotrin disclosed last month, will require the capping of oilwells. Kublalsingh said the cost of capping 65 oil wells, many of them still oil producing would be enormous, along with relocation and compensation costs, including businesses, Jokhan Contractors, which employs 1,200, and API Contractors, which employs 300 persons.
He also said that there would be costly technical work involved in building over a lagoon, with aggregate needed for nine miles, six to eight feet high, in addition to the cost of infrastructure for creating new communities.
The Highway Re-Route Movement is advocating the highway be rerouted to the Mosquito Creek along a pre existing road, and for the existing roads in the communities between Debe and Mon Desir to be improved.
He said, "If the goal is interconnectivity and not disconnectivity, a highway will not do. It disconnects communities, not connect. Roads from Fyzabad, Siparia, Penal and Debe ought to be refurbished to feed into the existing and proposed system.
"We are recommending a re-route across empty Caroni Lands from Debe to North Mosquito Creek in the vicinity of Paria Suites. This would cost a quarter or a fifth of the $4 billion for the Debe to Mon Desir (segment). This option would also improve the new Point Fortin to San Fernando Highway since it would take you from the end of the current highway at Golconda to Mosquito Creek in under ten minutes both ways".
Editor's Note: The Sunday Express asked Nidco last Friday for a response to the Highway Re-Route Movement's claims. Nidco had not replied up to late yesterday.