Residents query Cedros land development Aquifer, wildlife under threat

Monday, April 1, 2019 - 09:15

A pri­vate land de­vel­op­er has bull­dozed over 64 acres of forests at the Tre­strail Es­tate in Granville, Ce­dros, dis­plac­ing red howler mon­keys and clog­ging the Ap­pang Riv­er and its trib­u­taries, whilst leav­ing the Granville Ceme­tery on the brink of col­lapse at the edge of a 100 feet man-made cliff.

The mat­ter is now the sub­ject of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Min­istry of Plan­ning, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Au­thor­i­ty and the Siparia Re­gion­al Cor­po­ra­tion.

With the on­slaught of April show­ers, res­i­dents are now ter­ri­fied that the Granville Ceme­tery will come top­pling down and the clogged riv­er will trig­ger mass flood­ing in the vil­lage.

When Guardian Me­dia vis­it­ed the site last week work­men were seen on the land. Fresh­wa­ter from the Granville aquifer ran through the deep trench­es. The rivers were dry and mounds of dirt had been piled high to cov­er the trib­u­taries which were once main sources of fresh wa­ter. A dusty paw­paw es­tate stood close by and the ex­ca­va­tion end­ed on the bound­ary of the ceme­tery, near the cliff.

Landown­er Vin­cent Ram­per­sad, who has two homes in Granville and an es­tate near the ex­ca­vat­ed de­vel­op­ment, said in ad­di­tion to the 64-acre clear­ing, Go­sine al­so ex­ca­vat­ed a 10-acre par­cel of land which Ram­per­sad had oc­cu­pied for 30-plus years. Ram­per­sad said both his homes were flood­ed in No­vem­ber and wild an­i­mals, in­clud­ing red howler mon­keys, par­rots, macaws and ocelots were left scam­per­ing for new en­vi­ron­ments af­ter their habi­tat was de­stroyed.

“I bought a lot of wild an­i­mals in years gone by and let them go in the forests. This man mash down every­thing. He try­ing to di­vert the nat­ur­al wa­ter­course. I want to know why the EMA has not act­ed on this,” Ram­per­sad said.

A cadas­tral map ob­tained by the T&T Guardian re­vealed that the ex­ca­va­tion on Tre­strail Es­tate had ex­tend­ed to Ben­nie lands, where the Granville ceme­tery is lo­cat­ed.

An­oth­er landown­er, who re­quest­ed anonymi­ty, said the Granville aquifer was now un­der threat be­cause of the de­struc­tion of the lands.

“When he first told us about the project, he said he was build­ing a shop­ping com­plex, a school and a place for wor­ship. Now we are hear­ing that he is clear­ing lands for a pri­vate hous­ing de­vel­op­ment. This is be­ing done un­der the noses of the EMA and Town and Coun­try Plan­ning and the Siparia Re­gion­al Cor­po­ra­tion,” the res­i­dent said.

Con­tact­ed for com­ment on the is­sue, coun­cil­lor for Ce­dros Shankar Teek­lucks­ingh agreed that more than 64 acres of land had been cleared. He al­so agreed that the de­vel­op­er had en­croached on the ceme­tery and blocked the Ap­pang Riv­er and its trib­u­taries.

“The Granville aquifer is con­nect­ed to the Erin wa­ter ta­ble. Here, we have fresh wa­ter springs. This is the largest wa­ter ta­ble in T&T and al­so in the Caribbean,” Teelucks­ingh said.

“When Patrick Man­ning want­ed to put a smelter this is what we protest­ed to pro­tect. Now this de­vel­op­er has in­ter­fered with the wa­ter ta­ble and it will cause re­al dev­as­ta­tion.”

He said the aquifer is al­so con­nect­ed to all the wells which sup­ply the Granville wa­ter treat­ment plant.

“The plant sup­plies wa­ter to 8,000 to 10,000 peo­ple in the South­west penin­su­la. How can the Min­istry of Plan­ning and De­vel­op­ment al­low this to hap­pen?” Teelucks­ingh ques­tioned.

Asked why the Siparia Re­gion­al Cor­po­ra­tion had not act­ed to stop the project, Teelucks­ingh said the cor­po­ra­tion had had no in­for­ma­tion on the project un­til the T&T Guardian raised the is­sue.

How­ev­er, he said the EMA, which grant­ed a Cer­tifi­cate of En­vi­ron­men­tal Clear­ance to the de­vel­op­er, should have been mon­i­tor­ing the project on a dai­ly ba­sis.

Teelucks­ingh said he was al­so con­cerned that high tides will bring salt wa­ter in­to the Granville aquifer and oblit­er­ate arable lands.

“The drainage is low­er than sea lev­el and with the in­crease of high tides that we ex­pe­ri­ence in coastal ar­eas, the salt wa­ter will come in­land due to the un­planned drainage that is tak­ing place. There is no prop­er en­gi­neer­ing in terms of de­sign and out­falls in­to the main riv­er,” he added.

Siparia Re­gion­al Cor­po­ra­tion chair­man Dr Glenn Ra­mad­hars­ingh mean­while said the build­ing in­spec­tor, en­gi­neer­ing and sur­vey de­part­ments were now in­ves­ti­gat­ing the com­plaints.

“They have done their vis­its and in an at­tempt to re­solve the mat­ter we will have a stake­hold­er di­a­logue with the de­vel­op­er,” Ra­mad­hars­ingh said. Ra­mad­hars­ingh said the EMA should al­so have of­fi­cers keep­ing sur­veil­lance at the site. But he point­ed out that de­vel­op­ers must re­spect en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, adding while he wel­comed the de­vel­op­ment and knew Go­sine well there should be ad­her­ence to en­vi­ron­men­tal laws.

EMA ad­mits to grant­i­ng per­mit

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Au­thor­i­ty (EMA) has con­firmed that it is­sued Cer­tifi­cate of En­vi­ron­men­tal Clear­ance (CEC) 4498/2015 to the per­mit hold­er for the de­vel­op­ment of 64.49 acres of land at Coro­man­del Road, Granville Beach, Ce­dros.

“The EMA has a re­spon­si­bil­i­ty un­der Sec­tion 37 of the EMA Act, to mon­i­tor the per­for­mance of any ac­tiv­i­ty to en­sure com­pli­ance with any con­di­tions in the Cer­tifi­cate. To this end, the Au­thor­i­ty has mon­i­tored the spe­cif­ic ac­tiv­i­ty via meet­ings, site vis­its and pe­ri­od­ic re­ports,” the au­thor­i­ty said.

Be­tween June and No­vem­ber 2018, the EMA said it con­duct­ed site vis­its and met with the de­vel­op­er and was ad­vised that all works had ceased in Au­gust 2018.

“Based on com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the Per­mit Hold­er, the EMA has been ad­vised that work is sched­uled to recom­mence in April 2019. The EMA notes any con­cerns re­gard­ing the project and will con­tin­ue to ac­tive­ly mon­i­tor all works at this de­vel­op­ment site, to en­sure com­pli­ance with the terms and con­di­tions of the Cer­tifi­cate. This in­cludes the mon­i­tor­ing of mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures for en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts to near­by re­cep­tors,” the EMA added.

Res­i­dents of the area are now com­plain­ing that the de­vel­op­er may have en­croached on an area which was not cov­ered in the EMA cer­tifi­cate and that the de­vel­op­ment was now en­dan­ger­ing an aquifer and wildlife habi­tat.

Al­so con­tact­ed on the is­sue, Plan­ning Min­is­ter Camille Robin­son Reg­is said she did not know the land de­vel­op­er, adding that the re­ports will be in­ves­ti­gat­ed.

Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Clarence Ramb­harat, un­der whose port­fo­lio forestry falls, mean­while said he be­came aware of the mat­ter since last year and re­port­ed it to the EMA.

We will fix is­sues if we have to: De­vel­op­er

Anand Go­sine, the nephew of Deo Go­sine, whose land de­vel­op­ment at Tre­strail Es­tate in Granville is now be­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ed by var­i­ous state arms, yes­ter­day con­firmed they were ex­ca­vat­ing the land.

He said his un­cle Deo had nec­es­sary ap­provals but he could not sup­ply doc­u­ments to the T&T Guardian al­though re­quests were made for him to pro­duce them since March 22. He said Deo Go­sine was out of the coun­try but as soon as he re­turns they will meet with the com­mu­ni­ty to dis­cuss con­cerns raised.

How­ev­er, Anand Go­sine de­nied that they had ex­ca­vat­ed 10 acres of land oc­cu­pied by Ram­per­sad. Asked about claims they had clogged up the Ap­pang Riv­er and its trib­u­taries in the process, Go­sine de­nied do­ing this.

When shown pho­tos of the clogged riv­er, Go­sine said, “If that falls in our prop­er­ty we are al­lowed to do what­ev­er we want to do.”

Told this was not the case and ap­provals had to be sought, Go­sine re­spond­ed, “What­ev­er we need to do we will cor­rect it.”

He showed a let­ter which he said was sent to Ce­dros coun­cil­lor Teelucks­ingh which out­lined sev­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions, in­clud­ing main­te­nance of a fence at the ceme­tery and plant­i­ng of a cro­ton hedge along the chain link; in­stal­la­tion of heavy gauge struc­tur­al grade ero­sion at the side of the slope to mit­i­gate ero­sion; fill­ing of ex­ca­vat­ed land be­hind the ceme­tery; seed­ing of grass to re­tard soil ero­sion and plant­i­ng of bam­boo on the oth­er side of the fence.

Go­sine al­so said he was not fac­ing any law­suits from res­i­dents. He added that his un­cle’s de­vel­op­men­tal plans would be ben­e­fi­cial to the com­mu­ni­ty.

Told they had de­stroyed forests and the habi­tat for the pro­tect­ed red howler mon­keys, Go­sine said, “That is our land, we can do what­ev­er we want to do with it.

“What does this coun­try want? No de­vel­op­ment? You want for­eign in­vestors to come in here and in­vest and yet they try­ing to give us a hard time. It is not just one in­vest­ment we have there. Un­der the Go­sine Foun­da­tion, we have quite a lot of in­vest­ment. Is mil­lions of dol­lars we are in­vest­ing in this coun­try,” he said.

He as­sured that com­plaints will be ad­dressed.

“Mr Go­sine will fix any in­jus­tice we did and we will take care of it. Don’t make it look like we not will­ing to do what is nec­es­sary,” he added.

He al­so said af­ter the meet­ing with res­i­dents they will de­cide whether to shut down the project, or to pro­ceed.

Reporter: Radhica De Silva