Recently there’s been a lot of talk about the Aripo Savannah & The Roosevelt Highway To Manzanilla.
The project isn’t something new, it’s been a part of the National Highways Program since 1997. A quick search on the ttparliment.org brought up a document containing a house debate in 2004.
Franklin Khan who was The Minister of Works and Transport lays out the governments initiative. Part of the conversation goes:
[…] Churchill-Roosevelt Highway from Wallerfield onward into Sangre Grande. Actually, the highway would end somewhere at Sangre Chiquita, with a turn off into Sangre Grande. People who are going east into Mayaro and Manzanilla would not have to pass through the busy town of Sangre Grande.
House Debates – Wednesday, June 09, 2004: Page 96
Highway aren’t necessarily a bad thing, they relieve congestion on local roads and allow people to get where they are going faster. So what is the problem? The problem with this project is the planned route for the highway, which runs on the border of the Aripo Savannah.
The Aripo Savannah is an environmentally sensitive area, which has special status.
[…] In 1934 the Long Stretch Forest that also consists of the Aripo Savannas was proclaimed a Reserve. In 1980 the area was proposed as a Scientific Reserve and in 1987 the Savannas was declared a Prohibited Area under the Forests Act. The Aripo Savannas is also internationally renowned for its unusual flora and vegetation communities. It is one of the more intensively studied areas of natural ecosystems in Trinidad.
The Aripo Savannah is an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA), a designation it received in June 2007. Roughly 457 plant species have been identified, 38 of which are restricted to the Aripo Savanna, with about 16 to 20 considered rare or under threat.
Did you know of the insectivorous Drosera Capillaris (Sundew), which feeds on insects?
Most of us know of the moriche palm, but did you know they can reachup to 115ft?
Endemic Floral Species
Endemic flora are plants that can only be found in one location in the entire world. The Aripo Savannah has two of them.
A number of creatures also live within the Aripo Savannah. There are Ocelots, musk hogs (quenk), raccoons, tamandua anteaters, agouti, lowland paca (lappe), opossum (manicou), brocket deer, five resident species of birds; are just a few of them.
As previously mentioned, almost all the Aripo Savannah is a designated a scientific zone, except for a section reserved as an education zone.
The Forest Act
Trinidad & Tobago does have laws governing it’s forests. I came across the FOREST ACT on the ttparliament.org website.
There is a section of the forest act which pertains to the Long Stretch Nature Reserve, it states:
FORESTS (PROHIBITED AREAS) ORDER
The following areas are declared prohibited areas:
(8) As from 15th June 1987— All that area of Forest Reserve forming part of the Long Stretch Forest Reserve comprising approximately 1800 hectares and bounded as follows:
(i) on the North by Valencia River;
(ii) on the East by the Eastern Main Road;
(iii) on the South by the disused railway line; and
(iv) on the West by the Aripo River.
FOREST ACT Chap. 66:01
I looked up the boundary of the Long Stretch Reserve and it seems to be properly marked.
I wasn’t too sure where the railway line in the South was, so I looked that up also.
The Railway line appears to be exactly at the border of the Aripo Savannah in the south.
So everything seems right, right? Not quite.
The Buffer Zone
Take a look at the Aripo Savannah map below, notice the red dashed lines that outline the Savannah? That’s the 500 meter buffer zone.
[…] a buffer zone is often created to enhance the protection of areas under management for their biodiversity importance. The buffer zone of a protected area may be situated around the periphery of the region or may be a connecting zone within it which links two or more protected areas, therefore increasing their dynamics and conservation productivity. […]
The buffer zone was placed when the Aripo Savannah received its scientific designation, which I believe was in 1980. Unfortunately this 500 meter buffer zone doesn’t have any legal significance. There’s no mention of it legally, at least not that I know of.
This is where things get weird.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Tv6 aired a report in 2017, in which a Certificate Of Clearance (CEC) was issued, despite a team of technical advisers recommending against it.
A summary of decision outlining the issues as to why a CEC should not be granted was nearly kept from public view. The managing director Hayden Romano instructed the staff not to release the document summarizing the findings for public review.
The EMA’s chairman Mrs. Nadra Nathai-Gyan and other directors signed off on the CEC nonetheless.
By the way, this is the same EMA that makes recommendations for a national environment policy, the same EMA that provides designation and protection for Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Species, the same EMA that is supposed to protect the Aripo Savannah.
Fisherman and Friends of the Sea
The Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Fisherman and Friends of the Sea (FFSO) was able to temporarily halt the construction of the highway.
Environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has obtained an interim injunction barring the Government from continuing work on the first phase of the $400M Churchill Roosevelt Highway Extension to Manzanilla. […]
Source: The Guardian
Rohan Sinanan who is the current Minister of Works & Transport, recently stated that the delay in constructing the highway is costing taxpayers $1 million dollars a day.
[…] He also noted that while the minister said it is $1 million per day, the ministry’s lawyers said $10 million per week while in Kallco’s affidavit they said in two weeks they spent approximately $3.5 million, or $250,000 per day. [..]
Source: The Guardian
FFOS has also challenged the decision by the EMA in issuing the CEC
[…] The FFOS has also challenged the decision by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to issue a certificate of environmental clearance (CEC) to the Ministry of Works for a 5,000-metre highway from the Cumuto Main Road to Guaico Trace in Sangre Grande. […]
Newsday.co.tt brought to light a sentiment shared by the EMA’s lead attorney Deborah Peake, of the FFOS challenge on the CEC:
Peake said the FFOS, as a self-described public-spirited organisation, chose not to participate in the public consultations and provided no justification for the delay in bringing their challenge to the CEC approval.
Kall Co Ltd
Kallco, sound familiar? Kallco was the company pulled from a $120 million dollar government contract In July 2016, for repairs and upgrades of the Maracas Beach Facility.
Minister in the Ministry of Attorney General and Legal Affairs Stewart Young confirmed by saying:
“the contract was terminated on the basis of legal advice obtained. The employer of Kallco in that instance is CISL (Community Improvement Services Limited), so CISL terminated Kallco must be a month and a half ago… It would have been found that progress was not being made in the manner it should have been made in. It wasn’t being done as quickly as possible, they (Kallco) hadn’t progressed as much as they should have at that point in time and based on the standards of work that should have been performed”.
Within a month of Rohan Sinanan becoming the Minister of Works and Transport, Kallco was hired by the Ministry to do clean up work in Eastern Trinidad, where communities suffered heavy rains falls in November 2016. Now, under Sinanan again, Kallco was awarded the $400 million contract for the highway extension, which the Prime Minister Kieth Rowley, defended and also noted that Kall Co was the lowest bidder.
Confusing, I know. I spent all afternoon digging through websites, looking at Trinidad & Tobago laws, reading government sittings, researching pictures and I still feel like I’m missing something. Anyhow, I hope this helps to clarify some of the things you’ve all been hearing in the news.
Whatever your thoughts and views, just know one thing; Trinidad & Tobago is a beautiful country and I believe we must do whatever it takes to keep it that way. We only have one country, it may not the biggest, or richest, or most lavish, but we have a unique culture that I am proud of. As inhabitants of Trinidad & Tobago, it is our job to protect the land and the animals so that future generations will be able to embrace the Trinidad & Tobago culture, the same way we do today.