transporting: One of the trucks which was allegedly transporting the aggregate from the illegal quarry site in the Matura Forest recently.

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Illegal quarrying in Melajo Forest

By By Anika Gumbs CCN Senior Multimedia Journalist

More evidence has surfaced linking a Sangre Grande-based businessman to an illegal quarrying site in the Melajo Forest in Matura.  

And while the businessman (name called) has denied any knowledge of the illegal quarrying site, continuing Sunday Express investigations have indicated otherwise. 

The Sunday Express has obtained a certified copy dated November 8, 2010 for a white dump truck with TCK licence plates registered to the businessman. 

The truck was among a fleet that were photographed entering the illegal quarrying site in 2013 where aggregate known as half-and-half was being stolen for sale. 

Contacted for comment yesterday, the businessman told the Sunday Express he sold the truck more than five years ago. 

Told that the certified copy was dated 2010, the businessman said: “I have sold that truck more than five years ago. I don’t understand this. Is it because I am black and ugly? I am establishing myself. I operating on nine acres of land. It is private property.”

Further investigations revealed that since the publication of the Sunday Express exclusive story, the businessman has ceased all operations at the illegal quarrying site and has returned to Andrews Trace, Matura, from where he once operated. 

The Ministry of Energy in 2012 suspended the quarry licence belonging to the owner of Andrews Trace, Matura, in respect of that acreage for breach of the terms and conditions outlined in the licence. 

The businessman, the ministry said, was not authorised to conduct any operations at the quarry located at Andrews Trace.


Illegal roads and electricity

Sunday Express investigations also showed  thousands of pine trees have been bulldozed, clearing the way for a gravel road that now leads from Andrews Trace to the illegal quarrying site in the Melajo Forest. 

Police, the Sunday Express learned, are also questioning who authorised electricity connection at the illegal quarrying site. 

The Melajo River, investigations further revealed, has also been diverted and now flows directly to the process plant where tonnes of  pitron (gravel) are washed to become aggregate. 

Photographs obtained by the Sunday Express show several pumps installed in the river extracting the water to the process plant.  

The river is brown in colour as the silt from the process plant flows into water. 

The Sunday Express also learned that following publication of the exclusive story, material from the illegal quarry site was removed to a hardware located along the Toco Road, Sangre Grande, and to a nearby quarry in the area that started processing the same aggregate in March.

Continued investigations further indicated five 20-tonne trucks were used to remove the stolen aggregate from last Sunday and Monday and continuing afterward.

It was also learned that around 8 p.m. last Monday four trailers removed excavators and loaders from the illegal quarrying site to an unknown location. 


Illegal quarrying file sent to police

The Ministry of Energy has sent a file to acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams in relation to the multi-million-dollar illegal quarrying operation in the Melajo Forest for action to be taken.

Ministry sources told the Sunday Express the police were made aware of the illegal mining operations last year. However, to date, no action has been taken as the perpetrators have illegally bulldozed and excavated approximately 400 acres comprising both State and private lands in search of the aggregate. 

Police said the illegal mining operations are being conducted mere metres behind a licensed quarry situated at Rio Grande Trace, Matura, between the hours of 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

A Sunday Express exclusive investigation into the mining operations uncovered that tonnes of aggregate material valued in the millions of dollars were being used in the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the $7.5 billion Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Pt Fortin.

The aggregate was delivered to the construction site from October 2013 to February of this year. 

Police said investigations revealed the aggregate is being excavated at the illegal quarrying site and a portion of the material is being stockpiled at the licensed quarry.

And while the ministry in response to questions sent by the Sunday Express said it was not aware aggregate mined from the illegal quarry site was used in the construction of the highway extension to Point Fortin, investigations indicated otherwise.

In fact, Howard John, co-owner of Caribbean Minerals Agency (CMA)—the company officially contracted to supply aggregate for the highway—said in an interview on May 22 that he purchased aggregate from a businessman operating at Matura from October 2013 to February of this year.

John said the aggregate was delivered to the construction site of the highway.

The ministry said the businessman does not have approval to conduct any operations at a quarry site.

The illegal quarrying operation being operated by the businessman was captured exclusively by the Sunday Express during an aerial tour of the area on May 22. 

The ministry referred to an operation conducted in 2012 where a quarry licence was suspended due to a breach in the terms and conditions by the owners.

National Security sources told the Sunday Express several planned operations to shut down the illegal quarrying site in the Melajo Forest were unsuccessful due to police officers and two Government officials tipping off the perpetrators.

The highway is being constructed by Brazilian firm Construtora OAS.


Top cop: we are dealing with the matter


When contacted last Wednesday acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams said: “The Deputy Commissioner of Crime, Glenn Hackett, meets with officials at the Energy Ministry on a regular basis and they discuss relevant matters relating to illegal quarrying and other activities.” 

Asked why no attempt has been made to clamp down on the illegal mining activities taking place in the Matura Forest, Williams said: “I have no comment on that.”      


Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine was e-mailed questions on the illegal quarrying activity.

These are the responses from his ministry:

Q:  Was a quarry licence ever granted to businessman (name called) for operations in the Matura Forest? If yes, please explain.

A: The Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs (“MEEA”) has never issued a quarry licence to businessman (name called) for the purpose of conducting operations in the Matura Forest. The MEEA has never issued a quarry licence to the businessman.

Q: Police have confirmed that businessman (name called) is currently under surveillance for illegal mining operations in the Matura Forest. Is the Ministry of Energy aware of this?

 A: Without prejudicing any investigation being carried out or to be carried out by the police in respect of this matter, the MEEA can confirm that it has passed on all information received regarding this issue to the Commissioner of Police for his attention and action.

Q: Information obtained by Sunday Express revealed the Ministry of Energy was made aware of the illegal mining operations being conducted by businessman (name called) two years ago. Please indicate what action was taken by the ministry to stop the illegal activity.

A: In 2012, the MEEA suspended a quarry licence in respect of acreage in Matura for breaches of the terms and conditions of the licence. This licence remains suspended and, as far as the MEEA is aware, no operations are taking place on this quarry site. It is important to note, however, that this licence was not granted to businessman (name called ). The MEEA has never issued a quarry licence to businessman (name called).

Q: Information obtained by Sunday Express revealed that a quarry licence was granted to Anita and Shevanan Dipnarine in 2009 to conduct operations at Rio Grande Trace, Matura. Investigations revealed that businessman (name called) now operates from the same compound. Please indicate if a quarry licence is transferable and the procedure involved.

A: Under the Minerals Act, Chapter 61:03, where the holder of a licence dies, the licence can be transferred to the heirs, successors or assigns of the deceased with the written consent of the Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs. In quarry licences there is a provision that the licensee may not assign any of the rights acquired under the licence without the prior written consent of the minister. The licences further state that the financial and technical competencies of a proposed assignee must be demonstrated. No consent was granted by the Honourable Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs for an assignment in respect of the operations at Rio Grande Trace, Matura.

 Q: Police have confirmed that an exercise was planned on May 23 to shut down the illegal operations being conducted by businessman (name called) in the Matura Forest. However, due to a detected possible breach the exercise was aborted. Please say what action the Ministry of Energy intends to take to stop the illegal activity.

A: Officers of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (“TTPS”) have the means and authority to arrest and charge persons conducting illegal activities, including illegal quarrying. The Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs works closely with the TTPS in seeking to eliminate illegal quarrying. Furthermore, an inter-agency committee (“the Committee”) was convened in 2013 to determine the legislative amendments required to combat illegal quarrying. Representatives of the Committee included personnel from the MEEA, as well as a senior member of the Police Service. 

The Committee produced a report detailing a number of amendments to various pieces of legislation that would assist in eliminating illegal quarrying. This report was recently approved by Cabinet. 

The recommendations in the report will be implemented through proposed legislative amendments to be laid in Parliament later this year. In addition, in the short term the MEEA intends to continue monitoring illegal quarrying activities with the assistance of the police, in particular, with the Inter Agency Task Force. 

In the medium to long term, the MEEA plans to establish an enforcement unit to deal with all aspects of enforcement required under the Minerals Act, including against illegal quarrying.

Q: Investigations revealed the stolen aggregate retrieved from illegal mining operations in the Matura Forest is being used to build the highway to Point Fortin. Is the Ministry of Energy aware of this?

A: The MEEA is not aware of this.

 
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