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SIGNIFICANT SHORTCOMINGS

...Highway Review Committee report on Debe to Mon Desir

By Asha Javeed asha.javeed@trinidadexpress.com

The report by the Highway Review Committee (HRC), which was established to undertake a technical review of the Debe to Mon Desir segment of theSolomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin found that there were "significant shortcomings which warrant further interrogation to determine the way forward."

"The complex and sensitive issues involved in this project certainly could not be addressed within the confines of this 60-day review period. Should the Government decide to proceed with the construction of the Debe-Mon Desir segment, the HRC is of the considered opinion that shortcomings resulting from the inadequacies of proper assessment of the likely impacts on the human and natural environment must first be determined and resolved," was the conclusion in the executive summary of the report which was presented to Works and Infrastructure Minister Emmanuel George.

The content of the report is to be made public by noon today. It was precipitated by hunger strike outside the Office of the Prime Minister
in Port of Spain, by environmental activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh who opposed the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway. The Joint Consultative Council had intervened, which resulted in the HRC being established.

The following is a Summary of the findings which is contained in the Dr James Armstrong Report.

"Urban and Regional Planning

The planning of the proposed Debe to Mon Desir segment of the extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway (SHH) needed to have been undertaken as part of a comprehensive plan that seeks to balance the land use and transportation needs of south west Trinidad, and to do so with a minimum of disruption of human communities.

Given the limited land space that is available in Trinidad and Tobago, and the large land-take associated with road infrastructure such as highways and interchanges, the Planners need to come up with mechanisms and approaches that would effectively address long-term congestion problems and provide the accessibility that is needed to improve connections between the various areas of the country without severely impacting the lives of people.

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact issues as set out in the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) and the EIA as issued by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) were considered critical as a starting point for the review of the relevant documentation. The Committee determined that while the requirements for the environmental assessment were generally adequately set out in the TOR issued by the EMA in April 2006, these were quite outdated. The EIA was actually submitted in February 2009, almost three years after the issuance of the final TOR. The initial submission of the EIA for the CEC 1372/2006 was rejected by the EMA with references made to generic deficiencies as elaborated by the EMA’s Review Panel comprising various technical state agencies. The deficiencies cited by the EMA’s Review Panel were outlined in a Review Assessment Report of 27 October 2009 and included, in part:

 There was insufficient detail with respect to the socio-cultural environment and more details were needed.

 There appeared to be a lack of adequate consultation with agricultural land owners.

 There was no clear provision for the compensation of persons who stood to lose property.

 There was no indication of arrangements for individuals, households, businesses, and farmers to

be displaced by the right-of-way (ROW), by resettlement or otherwise.

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The responses from the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure (MOWI) to the issues raised by the Review Panel were found by the HRC to be inadequate and often dismissive. The CEC was issued on April 20, 2010, although the Administrative Records at the EMA provided no additional information to determine the basis of its decision. The opinion of the HRC is that the EIA was not acceptable and should have been rejected and returned to the Applicant. It seems that the EMA relented without having the Applicant provide adequate responses.

Social Impacts

A closer examination of the treatment of SIA within the EIA also indicates that this was quite inadequate. It was noted that the study area of direct and indirect impacts was not clearly defined, and not drawn sufficiently wide to allow for the consideration of all of the relevant social issues. The consultant concluded that there is insufficient data in the EIA to adequately assess the social impacts, to classify them in terms of severity, and to plan adequately to mitigate them.

There is need for an adequate SIA to be conducted in accordance with international best practice that is based upon the reality that development interventions as significant as the Highway improvement works under review are likely to have tremendous impact, both positive and negative, on the social fabric of the catchment area that extends way beyond the proposed alignment. These impacts need to be scientifically determined and effective mitigation measures formulated to protect the human element before final decisions are taken regarding this highway development.

Human Settlement

The alignment of the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the SHH route impacts on those settlements that have grown out of economic endeavours pursued over a century ago and which over time have developed into well-established communities. In the event that persons are to be removed from the path of the alignment, it is essential that relocation be based on an Integrated Human Settlement approach that combines a range of land usages designed with sensitivity to the physical environment of the wider area, and arranged in village clusters.

Indications are that approvals for development of the proposed resettlements sites at Petit Morne and Golconda were not obtained from the appropriate authorities, which suggests a flagrant flouting of the statutory requirements. It is felt that Golconda offers a better option for the consideration of relocation as it allows for conditions similar to those to which the relocates are accustomed.

Economic Cost/Benefit Considerations

The HRC was unable to make an adequate assessment of the economic cost-benefits of the highway segment. It is felt that the EIA and other documents presented did not detail any quantifiable benefits that may be incorporated into a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA). Further, while some adverse impacts were anticipated, such as the acquisition of houses; disruption of current and traditional land uses; and loss of business opportunities, there were no quantifiable indicators to make informed assessments. There was no holistic treatment of the project to adequately reflect a convergence of the salient environmental, social, and economic issues that arise. It appears that none of the key agencies involved in the project viz, the EMA, the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure (MOWI), Ministry of Finance, NIDCO, or any of the consultants sought to provide an integrated assessment of the project, including primarily a CBA.

Traffic and Transportation

In reviewing the traffic and transportation issues it was found that the need for a highway is driven more by the expected traffic growth from San Fernando and northern areas to the Debe-Penal corridor, than by the through traffic to Point Fortin. The earlier Trintoplan study did include a northern route as is being suggested by the HRM. However, it was found that the HRM’s traffic proposals are short-term in nature and do not seem to take into account future increases in car numbers and traffic. These issues are further clouded by a separate decision by the Government to expand the Mosquito Creek segment to four lanes, by the conflation to build a highway to Point Fortin with a paradigm to develop the Siparia-Fyzabad- Penal area, and by the lack of any up-to-date traffic plans for the area. It was noted that NIDCO recently commissioned a traffic study in this connection. The preliminary findings of the recent study conclude that the HRM’s proposal will not be the preferred alternative as it does not provide enough capacity for the future traffic requirements in the area to 2030.

Hydrology and Hydraulics

In the area of hydrology and hydraulics it was felt that the Hydrology Report of 2007 fulfilled the objectives of determining the hydrologic information required for inputs to the hydraulics for bridge and culvert preliminary designs at points of intersection of the highway and river crossings. However, the analyses are not carried out in the context of an Integrated Watershed Management Plan for the South Oropouche River Basin. It was again felt that projects of this type must be undertaken in a more holistic manner. It was further observed that the EIA process failed to take into consideration comments by the EMA’s Review Panel. The Committee agreed that the EIA considerations were eventually compromised by the Design-Build approach, and concluded that this approach was ill-advised for this project as the implementation risks are in direct conflict with Best Practice, and therefore not in the best interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

Land Tenure and Acquisition

Various observations were made with respect to property acquisition practices related to the project. Indications are that entry on to property for executing the project might have been made without Section 4 authority as required by legislation. It must be stressed that improper land acquisition procedures are the cause of substantial delays. The policy and arrangements for ‘ex-gratia’ awards in many cases appear to be unsatisfactory.

Conclusion

The Trinidad and Tobago Constitution guarantees certain rights and freedoms which are considered fundamental to the operation of a democratic society. Section 4 of the Constitution guarantees the right of enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of the law. It follows that there is no breach of a person’s constitutional rights if that person’s property is acquired in strict compliance with the law and that such person receives adequate compensation, including consideration of trade-offs. A significant concern with the Debe to Mon Desir Highway is whether or not the lawful authority responsible for this large public expenditure is conforming to due process, including observance of various oversight statutory requirements for environmental management, the development of land, and due consideration of socio-economic impacts of the affected persons.

The HRC found that there were significant shortcomings which warrant further interrogation to determine the way forward. The complex and sensitive issues involved in this project certainly could not be addressed within the confines of this 60-day review period. Should the Government decide to proceed with the construction of the Debe-Mon Desir segment, the HRC is of the considered opinion that shortcomings resulting from the inadequacies of proper assessment of the likely impacts on the human and natural environment must first be determined and resolved. "
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