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