Illegal quarrying in Valencia

Monday, September 16, 2019 - 09:30

Il­le­gal quar­ry op­er­a­tors have start­ed min­ing in­side the State-owned pine fields of Va­len­cia, leav­ing be­hind open pits as deep as 20 feet.

Forestry work­ers who have been toil­ing in the pine field forests off Mo­ra Trace, Va­len­cia came up­on the pits yes­ter­day.

Ex­press­ing dis­gust with il­le­gal min­ing, one work­er said, “This is a haz­ard be­cause there are con­trac­tors and oth­er op­er­a­tors who work in the pine field.

The holes are about a quar­ter-mile in­to the bush close to the forestry re­serve ac­cess road. Oth­er pits are about half mile off the forestry re­serve road.”

Show­ing a hole that was about 20 feet deep, the source said, “It ap­pears they are search­ing for grav­el.

The area here is sandy. Imag­ine what will hap­pen when the rains come and fill up this hole.” Some of the largest pits are about 50 feet by 75 feet while the small­est mea­sures about six feet by four feet.

“Oth­ers are hard to see be­cause they are shroud­ed by bush­es. It is very dan­ger­ous,” he added.

A res­i­dent said Mo­ra Trace is usu­al­ly guard­ed by men who are linked with the il­le­gal quar­ry op­er­a­tors.

“We heard that there are boys with AK47s who stick around in the bush­es in the forests look­ing out to see who speaks out. Every­body knows who the il­le­gal quar­ry op­er­a­tors are and this is a bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness,” he added.

The quar­ry­men move with ex­ca­va­tors and have no qualms about tear­ing down forests. There are tracks lead­ing to aban­doned hous­es where the look­outs hide.

A se­nior po­lice source said it is dif­fi­cult to ar­rest peo­ple for il­le­gal quar­ry­ing be­cause of the look­outs who tip off the op­er­a­tors.

Con­tact­ed for com­ment, Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture Clarence Ramb­harat said by law, il­le­gal quar­ry­ing falls un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Min­is­ter of En­er­gy and En­er­gy In­dus­tries.

“The Com­mis­sion­er of State Lands pro­vides tech­ni­cal sup­port to En­er­gy on these mat­ters,” he said.

A se­nior of­fi­cial who re­quest­ed anonymi­ty said there were more than 100 quar­ry­ing sites across T&T but on­ly 30 of them are cur­rent­ly be­ing  mon­i­tored by Min­istry of En­er­gy of­fi­cials.

Il­le­gal quar­ry sites have been found at Ve­ga de Oropouche, Five Acres, off San­gre Grande, Va­len­cia, To­co and Waller­field. In South Trinidad, the Min­istry has re­ceived re­ports of il­le­gal quar­ry­ing along the Pe­nal Rock Road and sev­er­al parts of Bar­rack­pore.

How­ev­er, with lim­it­ed sup­port staff, the min­istry has been un­able to ad­e­quate­ly mon­i­tor sites.

Penal­ties for quar­ry­ing

Ac­cord­ing to the Min­er­als Act, Chap­ter 61:03, the penal­ty for il­le­gal quar­ry­ing is a fine of $700,000 and up to sev­en years in prison.

Any per­son who ex­plores for mines, process­es, im­ports or ex­ports any min­er­al with­out a li­cense is­sued by the En­er­gy Min­istry, up­on first con­vic­tion will face a fine of $500,000 and im­pris­on­ment for five years. For any sub­se­quent con­vic­tion, the fine is $700,000 and im­pris­on­ment for sev­en years.

Any­one who know­ing­ly pur­chas­es ag­gre­gate from un­li­censed min­ing op­er­a­tors or trades in such min­er­al can al­so be ar­rest­ed by po­lice and can face a $500,000 fine and five years im­pris­on­ment.

Un­der the State Lands Act, Chap­ter 57:01,  where the ma­te­r­i­al dug, won, or re­moved is as­phalt, up­on a first con­vic­tion the penal­ty is a $300,000 fine and three years im­pris­on­ment. For sub­se­quent con­vic­tions, the fine in­creas­es to $500,000 and five years im­pris­on­ment.

Where ma­te­r­i­al oth­er than as­phalt is dug, won, or re­moved, up­on first con­vic­tion per­sons can face a $120,000 fine and one-year im­pris­on­ment.

For sub­se­quent con­vic­tions, there is a $300,000 fine and three years im­pris­on­ment.