Friday, February 23, 2018

La Brea residents still in a mess


Oil spill control: An overhead view of contractors at Point Sable, La Brea on Saturday during their clean-up operation following several oil spills on the south-western peninsula. —Photo: MICHEAL BRUCE

Mark Fraser

MORE than 20 days have passed since the oil spill occurred near La Brea and affected residents still cannot cook or even light a cigarette for fear of causing more destruction to the area.

Massive amounts of oil can still be seen along the coastline, on the rocks and mangrove, and oil-covered birds and animals struggle to survive in the polluted area.

Yet, residents are trying to make do as best they can, working for $50 per hour although their lives have been affected, with many falling sick.

And they have to deal with people shunning them because they are afraid of the possibility of contracting diseases.

But, one good thing has come out of all the stress and confusion the residents are facing—unity.

Residents said because of the problems, they have been more unified than ever as they support each other, since all of them are facing similar problems.

Tenesha Modeste, 27, said her five-year-old son was not allowed to attend school since it reopened last week because teachers were afraid the rash on his skin will spread to others.

Sherry-Ann Francis is stressed out, not because she and her family are also affected, but because of the 30 primary school children who visit her home for additional lessons after school.

For ten years, Francis has been operating a homework centre at her home at Queen Street.

She used to charge $15 per week to offset the costs of photocopy material but now she does not charge a fee.

Francis, 46, is diabetic and suffers with severe venous failure. She receives a disability grant from the Government but to make additional income she makes delicacies such as fudge to sell.

Since she cannot use her stove, she has been unable to earn any income from the items she would normally sell.

“This really mashed me up. I am thinking about the children all the time. They cannot come into the area because there is a lot of dust and it is contaminated. I am really trying to do something good for the community and the children and now they cannot get their extra lessons...and the children are excited about the marks they are getting in school because of it.”

Francis said children were begging for classes to begin but she said she could not take the risk of having them in the area.

She said her blood pressure level has risen because she was stressed out by the situation and also having to take care of her five children.

Shevon Showers, who lives near Coffee Beach, said some changes have been made to clean-up operations and plans have been put in place so residents can receive a proper compensation.

Showers said the residents have formed a committee to deal with the issue of compensation. That committee, Environ Protectors, is assisted by Hove and Associates law firm in Port of Spain.

Showers is one of the residents working to clean up the oil spill. He said “some sort of order” was being put in place.

The residents who worked on a two-day, 12-hour shift rotation now work eight hours per day and only during the day.

They have been placed into two groups of 15. They work for seven days and alternate with the other group, Showers said.

Petrotrin continues to provide meals for the residents as they are not yet allowed to light any fires in the affected areas.

Medical care has been provided by Petrotrin at La Brea Community Centre, from two nurses and one doctor.

Yesterday, staff members from the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) met with residents at a home located at the corner of Queen Street and High Road.

The workers have not yet received a final compensation but Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president-general Ancel Roget has called for partial compensation until the legal issues regarding that could be finalised.

The residents have praised the efforts of Fitzgerald Jeffrey, Member of Parliament for La Brea, saying he was doing all he could to assist them.

However, they were critical of the Government’s efforts to deal with the issue, saying persons were only visiting the area for public relations and no one, including Petrotrin officials, have met with them to really discuss the issues.

Roget has called on the Government to relocate residents to proper homes, provide proper medical care, pay higher wages according to the collective agreement made by Petrotrin and the OWTU, and pay full compensation.