Work ongoing: An aerial view of the progress of the work at Monteil Trace, Fyzabad, yesterday, where environmental activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh began his hunger strike 18 days ago. The helicopter tour of the Point Fortin Highway route was organised by Nidco. —Photo: DEXTER PHILIP

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Nidco head: No need for another report

By Susan Mohammed susan.mohammed@trinidadexpress.com

HOURS before the Joint Consultative Council for the construction industry is expected to meet with the Government on its proposal to end the hunger strike by Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, president of the National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (Nidco) Dr Carson Charles yesterday appealed for support for the work to continue on the extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway.

The five-page JCC proposal delivered last week to Minister of Works Emmanuel George detailed 12 points, among them the appointment of a technical review committee of the Debe-to-Mon Desir segment of the extension of the highway.

Kublalsingh, an environmentalist and leader of the Highway Re-route Movement, has been on a hunger strike for the past 18 days in a bid to impel the Government to undertake an independent technical review of that segment of the highway.

The JCC, led by its president Afra Raymond, is expected to meet with George today at 11 a.m., in an attempt to end the stand-off between Kublalsingh and the Government.

Kublalsingh was given a copy of the document and agreed to end his hunger strike once Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar agreed to the proposal.

Nidco took the media on an aerial tour of the route of the highway extension, which will run from Golconda to Point Fortin. Reporters, photographers and cameramen were taken in three national helicopters from the National Helicopter Service, at Camden in Couva, for an hour-long tour, where officials from Nidco and international engineering and design firm AECOM pointed out the areas under construction, as well as proposed areas for construction.

Charles, in an address before the tour, said the greatest of challenges for the project encountered by Brazilian construction firm OAS Constructura were between Debe and Siparia.

Commenting on Kublalsingh's and the Highway Re-route Movement's call for a technical review, he said: "All the reports and studies were done. Studies of hydrology, studies of social impact, engineering studies—all done before. You think a hydrology study can be done in two months? Are we supposed to do a new one after we did another one before? The contractor must study the hydrology and catchment and designs for it. We told him that when he designs for it to make sure there is less flooding than there is now. Do you believe that in this modern world today that a consultant of international repute can design a highway in this area and reduce the flooding that you have right now? Go and check on the other highways that have been built in the world."

The Nidco president said: "If you don't believe it, go back to the Stone Age. If you don't believe it, you think you have experts who can come and check it, come and check it. That is the challenge I put out to all of those who want the review. We told him what we want of his designs, we have to approve it. The Minister of Environment and Water Resources has to approve them also."

Charles said the highway extension project was the only major construction project ongoing in the country, and it was needed to boost the economy. "I appeal for support from the national community for what is a major undertaking in our country today," said Charles. "Let us not together try to strangle it. Let us do what we can meet the concerns of the people, and at the same time try to keep it moving forward. We want to keep moving it forward."

The Nidco president said an impression was created that "we are operating like crazy people".

"I don't understand how we can be going into the wetlands and the communities at the same time. But I guess if you want to discredit something you will throw everything at it. You throw the fridge at it, you throw your shoes at it, you even throw some news reports at it. Because you want to discredit it," he said.

Charles said there were intentions to build other highways from Princes Town to Mayaro, and from Wallerfield to Sangre Grande, and he expected other issues to arise then.

"What we learned from this is that we need to talk a little more and share a little more and not take things for granted. We probably have been guilty of taking things for granted. We have been busy doing our work. I also have a technical hat, you see. Because we are trying to get this thing done for our country in four years," he said.

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