Sunday, February 25, 2018

Tourism site under threat

Flood dam may make Maracas waterfall trail inaccessible


‘NATURAL WONDER’: Martin Gonzales PNM councillor for Maracas/Santa Margarita points to the Maracas Waterfall which may no longer be accessible to the public due to proposed plans to build a dam along Waterfall Road, Maracas. —Photos: Jermaine Cruickshank

Mark Fraser

One of the country’s most visited nature sites, the Maracas Valley Waterfall, is in danger of becoming inaccessible to the public.

This is the possible outcome of a proposal by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (Drainage Division) to construct a flood control dam and reservoir and a sediment trap in the St Joseph River as part of flood control works in the Caroni River Basin to eliminate flooding in the area.

If given the green light by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), the access Waterfall Road that leads to the popular hiking trail located in the northern area of St Joseph in the Maracas Valley will be closed to the public.

The Express obtained a map of the proposed flood-control dam that shows more than half of the Waterfall Road is expected to be cut off and covered under water as construction of the dam will span over several acres of land in the area affecting fauna and flora.

The Express learned that the ministry applied to the EMA for two certificates of environmental clearance (CEC) and was informed that stakeholder consultation is required before being given the go ahead.

The project is scheduled to begin in April.

Some 24 families living along Waterfall Road are set to be affected by the move.

Leading project management, engineering and consultancy providers, Royal HaskoningDHV (correct), has been contracted by the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) to undertake a drainage study in the Caroni River Basin with focus on flood abatement.

Public consultations are being conducted by a company called Engineering Consultants Limited (ECL).

The Express learned that following two consultation meetings held on February 4 and 6, residents have rejected the proposed solution to deal with the flooding situation in the area.

In a February 12 letter sent to ECL’s study manager George Sammy, the Waterfall Road residents requested an independent impact assessment to be conducted before commencement of the project.

Outlining the negative impact the proposed dam would have on the environment, the letter stated: “The upper area of the Maracas Valley is a prime area for agro-eco tourism and includes such attractions as majestic scenery, pristine waters, the last remaining Cadbury’s Cocoa Estate and the country’s tallest waterfall. The Maracas Waterfall and its environs is also one of the official tourism destinations outlined by the Ministry of Tourism for visitors when they come to Trinidad.

“Due to these remarkable aspects of the area, locals as well as thousands of tourists visit Waterfall Road annually to get a sense of the history behind Cadbury’s Chocolate in the Caribbean and embark upon an adventurous hike to the waterfall. There is also a wide abundance of fishes, wildlife, picnic venues and bathing pools along the river that visitors enjoy when they visit Waterfall Road. As such, destroying the forestry to install a dam is an environmental disaster with irreparable damage.”

The letter also listed the effects the proposed dam would have on the residents and their livelihood.

“Many residents will lose their homes, which in some case is their sole livelihoods since they practise agriculture on a full-time basis. The majority of these land parcels were originally distributed to soldiers who served in World War II and are currently occupied by their offspring. If this dam is built, heritages would be lost, community ties will be broken and lands would be flooded in rainy season and reduced to an unsightly barren landscape,” the letter further stated.

The Express learned that St Joseph residents are also objecting to the construction of the sediment trap.

During talks at the February 4 meeting, residents complained about the lack of consultation and deemed the project “an unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money,” the Express learned.

The Maracas Valley Action Committee has endorsed the concerns raised by the residents.

The committee recommended that further studies be conducted before the proposed plans are implemented.

Noting the need for water pollution rules to be enforced, the committee said: “If construction/developers, squatters conform to these rules most of the problems envisaged would not exist because the river flow and sediment volumes would be considerably reduced.

“Such an expensive and disruptive exercise would then not be necessary to implement an engineering solution for a problem which should be solvable using environmental methods. “

When the Express contacted Sammy on Wednesday enquiring how ECL intended to move forward, he said: “I am not authorised to speak to you. Please speak to the Drainage Division.”

Pressed further as to whether concerns raised by residents were being taken into consideration, Sammy said: “Please talk to the head of the Drainage Division.”