Friday, August 25, 2006

Residents want more answers from Alcoa

by Carolyn Kissoon
Trinidad Express
August 25, 2006

Chatham residents were overflowing with questions on the proposed aluminum smelter plant when an Alcoa Trinidad and Tobago Project Team visited their community. But by the end of the meeting they were no wiser as to how the construction of the plant would affect their lives.

The meeting, which was attended by more than 200 residents, was held under heavy security at the Chatham Youth Camp, Chatham, on Wednesday.

Some shouted insults, while others cried and begged the Alcoa 12-member team to pack up and leave their peaceful village. Scores of police officers, including members of the special branch unit surrounded the building during the meeting. And when it was over, the officers escorted the Alcoa team members to their vehicles.

The residents demanded that Wade Hughes, a member of the Alcoa Trinidad and Tobago project team, explain why the application for the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC), which was submitted to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) was signed by Randy Overbey. "The designation of Overbey was listed as chief executive officer of Alcoa Incorporated, when he is chief executive officer of Alcoa Trinidad and Tobago Project Team. We need to know why. I believe this document is invalid and should be redone," one resident said.

It was one of their many questions which went unanswered. Others included the effect of constructing an aluminium plant on a water table and setting up a port on the southwestern peninsula.

Yesterday, Alicia Charles, communication specialist at the EMA, said the CEC document was thoroughly investigated. "If anything was found incorrect I believe it would have been raised already. But the residents have an opportunity to view the document and report their concerns," she said.

"We got nothing out of this meeting. They came here to answer questions, but we got no answers. The Alcoa officials just stood there and blatantly refused to answer us," Fitzroy Beache, president of the Chatham/Cap-de-Ville Environmental Protection Group said.

The meeting got off to a heated start when residents chastised Hughes for not beginning the meeting with the national anthem. "That is not how we do it in Trinidad. We start everything with the national anthem. And then we have to do a prayer," Beache shouted.

Shamilla Maharaj, of the Alcoa Trinidad and Tobago Project Team, attempted to explain the CEC to residents, but was frequently interrupted by angry residents.

The residents demanded an apology from Alcoa, for reporting that they had been receiving threats from Trinidadians . "How can we be threatening you. Why don't you say that you are threatening our lives by building this plant here," an elderly man said.

Alcoa, in a recent television report, claimed that officials were receiving threats.

The residents called on Alcoa, the world's leading aluminium producer, to explain how they would be transporting material to the site, during construction. They demanded that Hughes reveal whether a port would be constructed along the peninsula.

They also wanted to know how Alcoa would treat people living near the smelter plant in case of emergency. Hughes said the issue of a port along the southwestern peninsula was a separate matter.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More circumlocution from Alcoa

Yesterday, Alcoa hosted a press briefing regarding the terms of reference.
Noticeably absent was Mr.Randall Overbey, who has become the voice of the strong arm of Alcoa.
When questioned about Mr. Overbey’s statements, Mr. Hughes in a room full of journalists, flippantly said, ‘well you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers’. Are you sure that's what you want to say in a room full of journalists?
He also insisted that they were there only to field questions about the draft terms of reference. Anil Roberts of Power 102 stormed out of the meeting at this point.
However he then changed tack when pressured into giving the company’s position on violence against unarmed communities engaging in non-violent direct action, claiming that their surveyors were threatened. He also claimed that he and Mr. Overbey received death threats and this was justification for their taking guns into the community during a meeting with them last year.
Mr. Hughes, however was kind enough to acknowledge that citizens have a right to protest but that it should be non-violent. As journalist Tony Fraser noted this is a significant change from the original line of the company, which has usually taken a similar line to that of the government, that only residents of Chatham had a right to be involved in the discourse about smelters and that everyone else was an outsider.
Mr. Hughes dodged questions expertly, dealing in the typically circumlocutive manner that we’ve become accustomed to. He refused to answer questions about the cost of gas and when asked how then could people make a proper comment on the EIA without knowledge of the cost of gas, he shrugged and said that the government were the ones who had requested confidentiality and this was a common arrangement that they’ve made with other governments.
In fact he insisted that Alcoa had been invited here by the government, he didn’t say which one or when this invitation arrived in the mail.
He was unable to give a satisfactory answer to the question of why another set of consultations were taking place (this one regarding the Terms of Reference), even though the consultation process regarding the drilling of bore holes has been stalemated. He said they were in constant contact with the farmers on whose land they were doing the surveys (although several land owners in the area who do not want the surveys done have run surveyors off their land). When asked why these consultations were private and therefore being carried out in a way that could not be monitored, he replied that journalists were free to go and interview the farmers.
When asked whether they would leave if they were not given environmental clearance, he said they would not operate without the proper permissions but would seek to use all avenues to mitigate. He is on record as saying they’ve never had a problem they haven’t been able to mitigate.
In other words, who would dare refuse Alcoa? And if so, what possible reason could they come up with?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Town Meeting

Calling all citizens,
The Rights Action Group cordially invites you to a town meeting on Wednesday August 9
at Communication Workers Union to update you on what is happening on the frontline of anti-smelter struggle and also to discuss forms of non-violent direct action that we can take in solidarity with the communities that are currently under siege. In this time of questions and concerns and upheaval in our society, the Rights Action Group is calling on citizens to take their democracy seriously and register their own voices in the decisions being made on our behalf.
This meeting is an urgent call for a national response to recent activities in Chatham this week (please click on the link for our blog below), regarding the drilling of boreholes and how people in different parts of the island can get involved.
It's not about groups or personalities at this point. The Rights Action Group encourages every citizen to make their own interventions- to gather strength from prayer groups, to read about smelters in your book clubs, to meditate on changing the minds of those in power to a kind of development that is more evolved and considerate that this current development model.
This is what democracy is about. This is what growing into a sense of true freedom means to a post-Independence generation.
Part of our civic responsibility is to know our rights and know the laws and to challenge ourselves and our leaders to respect and uphold them. We will be providing you with practical information on the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and the rights that protect you, should you make a democratic choice to protest or simply speak out against whatever way injustice manifests itself in your community. At the meeting we will discuss non-violent forms of direct action that citizens can take, specifically looking at the issue of the smelters and how people can provide support for the community of Chatham, whatever their skill. Whether this support is spiritual, social, legal or otherwise we would like to begin amassing a database of skills that will be needed as the protest against the smelter continues.
If direct action is not your thing please also be there to sign a petition which will be sent on to the Heads of Caricom and the United Nations Environment Programme as the issue of two aluminum smelters on a small densely populated island is an issue of regional and international importance.
We look forward to seeing you tonight.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Chatham residents block Alcoa tests

August 8, 2006

A GROUP of residents in Chatham Village, where ALCOA plans to build an aluminium smelter plant, blocked company officials from carrying out soil tests yesterday. Officials from an agent of ALCOA and Trintoplan went to Food Crop Road, Chatham Village, to conduct geo-physical tests.

Fitzroy Beache, president of the Chatham/Cap de Ville Environment Protection Group, arrived at the site at about 8 am.

Within minutes, an estimated 50 residents gathered behind the Chatham Youth Camp. Personnel from Trintoplan were forced to bid a hasty retreat, Newsday was told, after they were confronted by the residents. Trintoplan’s engineer Adesh Surujnath confirmed the incident but declined to say what happened.

Currently embroiled in objections against ALCOA’s construction of the plant on 600 acres, the Chatham/Cap de Ville Environment Protection Group recently retained Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj to take legal action against the project on the grounds of environmental hazard.

Yesterday’s site visit was to continue geo-physical tests undertaken by Trintoplan and US-based Malcolm Pierre, on behalf of ALCOA.

On site yesterday were Surujnath, Trintoplan’s fields operations manager, Hugh Nurse, and officials of Malcolm Pierre.

Newsday was told that the exercise also involve assessing potential damage to farmers’ crops and a valuation of infrastructure.

Beache told Newsday residents confronted the officials about an arranged meeting they had not kept with the Chatham/Cap de Ville Environment Protection Group. The planned meeting, Beache added, was for an update on ALCOA’s plans.

“They were unable to say,” Beache said, “and we decided that not until we are given an update, will any work go on here.”

Beache told Newsday that the officials left the area after the residents demanded they must be told of ALCOA’s plans for the coming weeks and months.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Borehole Alert - Villagers protest Alcoa invasion

For Immediate Release
8.36 am

We have just received word out of Chatham this morning that work on the Trintoplan boreholes project has begun. Reports are that some land owners have given permission for survey pickets to be erected on their property. Other landowners who had not given permission came and discovered workers on their land and immediately called for them to stop.
Expert sources have advised the CCEPG that the boreholes, rather than being the innocent geo technical exercise Trintoplan claims it is, will be the first step in clearing the way for the coming of the alcoa smelter, although the CEC process has not yet begun.
Members of the Trintoplan and alcoa teams have been surveying the village for just over a week. At a meeting in the Chatham Community Centre two Saturdays ago several villagers reported running Trintoplan people off their land.
As hundreds of dead fish washed up on the beach last week, surveying began on the land and the EMA announced sotto voce that the alcoa EIA was out for public comment.
The consultation for the boreholes remains incomplete although at the last meeting the community demanded answers from the main stakeholders in this alcoa smelter project. alcoa and Trintoplan officials have been telling land owners that they don't need Environmental Clearance from the EMA to conduct soil testing. This is indeed so, although the residents and land owners of Chatham are not being told exactly what the soil testing is for.
The Chatham/Cap de Ville Environmental Protection Group sees this as a very grave development and this morning have cancelled a press briefing which was to take place at OWTU's Paramount Building this morning at 11.
This morning, Bechtel, alcoa, Trintoplan representatives are in the community with a security detail. The people of Chatham/Cap de ville continue to be concerned and increasingly disgusted at the disregard for process.
alcoa's continued attempts to psychologically intimidate members of the Chatham village with their scientific mumbo jumbo and their well oiled PR machine must be seen as for the shameful and disgusting exercise it is.
They are trying to say to the people of Chatham and Trinidad and Tobago as a whole that resistance is futile.
The Rights Action Group stands in solidarity with the people of Chatham and appeal to local company Trintoplan to do the right thing. We also stand with the community in their continued calls for open and transparent discussions on the implications of this aluminum smelter project on the people of this country and the world as a whole.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Greenlight Network to say 'I Do'

This project is interactive environmental street theatre. The 'bride', who represents "The Environment" will walk along the designated route, dragging her trail of plastic bottles behind her. These bottles are symbolic of the carelessly tossed bottles which clog our waterways and cause flooding and which need to be recycled or, at least, disposed of properly.

As "The Environment"/'bride' walks from the far west of Brian Lara Promenade to Woodford Square, those of us assisting her will stop random members of the public and read the 'Environmental Vow' to them (see vow written on invitation). Once a citizen says "I do", we will tie a piece of green cord around his/her hand to signify commitment to a healthy environment ... and he/she will get to cut a bottle from the bridal trail and symbolically place it in a garbage bag..

By the end of the 'wedding march', "The Environment"/'bride' will be free of the plastic bottles which have been strangling her beauty. The bottles will be properly encased in garbage bags which will then be taken to Recycling in Motion where they will be crushed or chipped for export (to be recycled abroad).

If you would like to be a bridal attendant on the day, please write to Greenlight Network and let us know so that we can prepare a vow on paper for you. All attendants will wear blue jeans and white tops.