Over 100 properties acquired for highway no longer needed

Thursday, April 11, 2019 - 07:45

The State is sad­dled with $345 mil­lion in claims for prop­er­ties that were ac­quired to make way for the con­struc­tion of the Solomon Ho­choy High­way Ex­ten­sion to Point Fortin.

And over 100 prop­er­ties were ac­quired that are no longer in the way of the pro­posed road de­vel­op­ment.

This was re­vealed by Works and Trans­port Min­is­ter Ro­han Sinanan on Wednes­day dur­ing an event in Guapo, where Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley turned the sod for pack­ages, 5D, 6C and 3A of the high­way ex­ten­sion project.

With $1.9 bil­lion spent by the Nid­co for the 12 pack­ages to com­plete the high­way from Dum­fries Road, La Ro­maine to the Dun­lop Round­about in Point Fortin, Sinanan said that the land ac­qui­si­tion that was bud­get­ed at $400 mil­lion in 2010 when the project was con­cep­tu­alised by a for­mer PNM ad­min­is­tra­tion sky­rock­et­ed to $800 mil­lion by the time the UNC gov­ern­ment award­ed the con­tract to the em­bat­tled Brazil­ian firm, Con­stru­to­ra OAS in 2012.

With the claims mount­ing, the fig­ure is pro­ject­ed to cross $1 bil­lion. Al­ready, $500 mil­lion has been spent on land ac­qui­si­tion with $345 mil­lion in claims to the State.

Sinanan said that 50 per cent of the prop­er­ty which need to be ac­quired are still out­stand­ing.

He said that a note will be pre­sent­ed to the Cab­i­net to­day to de­cide on how the gov­ern­ment will deal with land ac­qui­si­tion go­ing for­ward. Sinanan said the ma­jor­i­ty of land pre­vi­ous­ly ac­quired for the con­struc­tion of the high­way were done out­side of the pro­tec­tion of the Land Ac­qui­si­tion Act but through pri­vate treaty. This means that ne­go­ti­a­tions for com­pen­sa­tion were done out­side of the Com­mis­sion­er of Val­u­a­tions De­part­ment.

“Un­for­tu­nate­ly, this sit­u­a­tion has placed Nid­co and the State in a per­ilous sit­u­a­tion, hav­ing now to ex­pend sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial re­sources in le­gal fees to de­fend those claims where claimants are ar­gu­ing that they now have a le­git­i­mate ex­pec­ta­tion to be paid what was agreed to un­der these pri­vate treaty arrange­ments.

“To com­pound the sit­u­a­tion, the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment took the un­prece­dent­ed de­ci­sion to serve land ac­qui­si­tion no­tice to all oc­cu­pants and own­ers of prop­er­ties that were lo­cat­ed along the en­tire Right of Way of the high­way, in­clu­sive of Sec­tion 4 le­gal or­ders which au­tho­rised the State to take pos­ses­sion of the lands with­in a stip­u­lat­ed six months pe­ri­od,” Sinanan said. 

While con­struc­tion was on­go­ing, the Right of Way was changed to re­duce the cost of the high­way project, with an es­ti­mat­ed 11 km of the road­way be­ing omit­ted from the plan. This meant that 200 peo­ple whose lands were in the orig­i­nal de­sign for the con­struc­tion, were re­moved from the list of ac­qui­si­tions.

But dur­ing the process, prop­er­ty own­ers were re­quired to re­tain pri­vate val­u­a­tors and le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives to sub­mit claims on their be­half. Sinanan said that over 100 prop­er­ties that we ac­quired and paid for by Nid­co were no longer re­quired. “To date, those per­sons’ lives re­main in lim­bo be­cause even though there was a re­align­ment of the high­way in many parts, the nec­es­sary no­tices were not served un­der the Land Ac­qui­si­tion Act to dis­con­tin­ue the land ac­qui­si­tion process and re­move this pro­longed veil of un­cer­tain­ty over the lives of these cit­i­zens.”

Row­ley re­called a prop­er­ty that was val­ued at $20 mil­lion but by the time ad­di­tion­al cost were made for dis­tur­bance and oth­er fac­tors, the price rose to $84 mil­lion. He said if the gov­ern­ment did not change, mon­ey would have been paid.

 - by Kevon Felmine