Sunday, July 09, 2006

Villagers’ tempers flare at Chatham soil test probe

By Shaliza Hassanali
Sunday Guardian
July 09, 2006

A geotechnical investigation, to be conducted by Trintoplan Consultants Ltd for Alcoa’s proposed aluminium smelter plant at Cap-de-Ville/Chatham, caused tempers to flare among residents of the south-western peninsula on Wednesday night.
During a meeting at Chatham Community Centre, hosted by Trintoplan field operations manager, Hugh Nurse, and project manager, Adesh Surujnath, the villagers accused Alcoa of trying to pull wool over their eyes, in order to conduct their geotechnical (soil) test.
Trintoplan was sub-contracted by Fugrow Geo Sciences Ltd, a firm based at Houston, Texas, USA, to conduct part of a feasibility study for the establishment of a 341,000- metric-tonne-per-year aluminium smelter at Cap de Ville/Chatham.
The study involves the setting-up of 103 (eight inches in diameter and 30 meters in depth) bore holes throughout the site.
The test will provide information on the sub-surface characteristics of the proposed site.
Drilling of the bore holes is set to begin on July 17, and will conclude on September 11.
Work will be carried out seven days each week for ten to 12 hours every day.
Some of the environmental effects from the drilling are cutting of vegetation and trees and noise generated from drill rigs.
Drilling map
In a pamphlet signed by Alcoa’s director of public strategy, Wade Hughes, it was stated that Alcoa had been officially advised by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) that the field drilling exercise did not fall within the lists of designated activities set out in the schedule of the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) Order, 2001.
As such, Hughes explained that a CEC was not required for the drilling exercise.
The total area to be cleared at the site was estimated not to exceed 8.4 acres.
“Additionally, the National Energy Corporation (NEC) has authorised Alcoa access to the site to carry out the proposed activity,” Hughes said.
However, what started off as a peaceful community meeting degenerated into a shouting match among villagers on hearing that NEC authorised access to the site.
At one point, tempers flared between villagers Valentine Charles and president of the Chatham/ Cap-de-Ville Environmental Protection Agency, Fitzroy Beache, who shared different views about their behaviour.
Beache said the people of the community were within their rights to demand answers about the smelter plant, but Charles disagreed.
He said people ought to behave in a civil and decent manner.
The two men eventually took their argument outside, with half of the meeting trailing behind to take in the war of words.
Retired nurse Yvonne Ashby tried to quell the heated argument by reasoning with the fuming men.
“Is Alcoa you have to fight. We must approach this in a level- headed way,” Ashby shouted, as Charles and Beach came to near blows.
The men later cooled down and the meeting resumed, with residents asking why Trintoplan came at the 11th hour to consult with the community.
“Why no drilling map was presented to us ? Who gave NEC authorisation to enter our lands?” they asked, putting Surujnath under fire.
Surujnath tried to explain that a preliminary map was drawn up and a final one will be presented to the villagers shortly.
“I don’t have answers for the other questions. I was hired to do a job,” Surujnath defended.
“Before you drill, we want to see a map. We want to know exactly where you going to bore these holes,” one Cedros villager shouted.

Noise levels
Angered by the turn of events, Ashby asked Surujnath if Alcoa had any right to enter lands in T&T, “and if so, who gave them permission?
“Do they (Alcoa) have a right to enter heritage lands at Bourg Congo, which were given to freed slaves?
“The people are owners of the lands,” she argued.
Ashby also suggested compensation for every Chatham/Cap-de-Ville villager who would be affected by noise levels from the drilling equipment.
Surujnath stressed that the noise level was estimated to range from 88 to 92 decibels, and plans had been developed to minimise the potential environmental impacts.
“Noise generated from drill rigs and water pumps is not expected to affect residents, given the low population density of the work site,” Surujnath explained.
But Ashby begged to differ, saying the villagers would be exposed to high levels of noise from the equipment used, and they should be compensated for their discomfort.
“Every villager should be given a cheque in their hand by Alcoa at the end of this exercise.”
Chatham beekeeper Chunilal Roopnarine also called for an urgent meeting with NEC.
“We want them to bring all relevant documents so we can see if they have legal rights to access our land for the proposed smelter plant,” Roopnarine said.
“Will the residents of Chatham/ Cap-de-Ville find out the results of the geotechnical investigation?” Beache asked Surujnath.
“I don’t have the authority to disclose that information,” Surujnath replied.
The villagers left the meeting saying they wanted to see the drilling map first, before any soil-testing in their community.
Trintoplan agreed to meet their demands.


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