Monday, December 25, 2006

Manning shelves smelter plan

Santa delivers early to Chatham residents
by Roxanne Stapleton
Trinidad Express
December 25, 2006

IN A shocking move last night, Government backed down from plans to establish an industrial estate in Cap-de-Ville.

This essentially means that there will be no smelter built at Chatham, much to the delight of the area's residents, who have united against the construction of a proposed Alcoa aluminium smelter in a series of explosively bitter, physical protests.

Instead, the Patrick Manning-led administration is to accelerate development of a new industrial estate offshore Otaheite Bank, "from which aluminium production can now be pursued, together with other industrial plants".

The highly charged statement came in the Prime Minister's Christmas and year-end review, which was aired to the nation last night from 7.30.

"We will continue with the Alutrint plant at La Brea, which could also form the basis for further aluminium production facilities in this country," Manning said.

Anti-smelter activists and supporters yesterday claimed this stand-down as a major victory for their camp, though this round is simply limited to a change in location.

Last night, strongly defending his Cabinet's stance that, come what may, it is unlikely that they would relinquish plans to establish aluminium smelting in this country, Manning described the recent symposium on the issue as being both "quite successful and helped in determining the direction we must now follow".

"Our symposium produced the very salient conclusion that the two proposed aluminium smelters present no unmanageable threat, either to the environment or to the health of the population," he said.

In fact, he said the symposium concluded, on health and environmental grounds, that there was no bar to the establishment of an aluminium industry in Trinidad and Tobago and that risks "as may exist are quite manageable".

Manning reiterated that the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) "has set the strictest standards for the pursuit of aluminium smelting facilities", adding that Cabinet will ensure the standards are met.

Commenting on the announcement, anti-smelter activist, Prof Julian Kenny, told the Express that the Government ought "to be commended for listening to the views of the people of Chatham/Cap-de-Ville and independent views from the wider public".

Kenny said that while the idea of building an island offshore Otaheite has been bandied about, it poses a threat to "the important fish and shrimp harvesting area at the Oropouche Bank".

"My point has always been if you want to develop an aluminium industry, my preference would be for importation of primary aluminium ingots, as does Japan, South Korea and other countries," Kenny said.

"My reasoning is the cost of smelting aluminium using natural gas is far costlier, by about a factor of ten to one, as opposed to the downstream use of aluminium."

Human rights activist/attorney, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who on Friday filed a constitutional motion in the San Fernando High Court to stop construction on the proposed Alcoa plant, slammed Manning's statements as inconsistent. (See Page 9.)

"Aluminium smelting, the Prime Minister agrees, is dangerous and needs to be managed. If it's dangerous to human health in Chatham, why have it in La Brea. You'll allow it to kill people in La Brea and Otaheite?

"The EMA, in any event, does not have the expertise, nor the human resource to police all poisonous emissions from aluminium smelters. We are going to oppose smelters in any location," he stressed.

Maharaj insisted that the relevant laws are not in place to assist Manning in his quest, adding that at the end of the day, the laws will be against the Prime Minister.

Opposition Senator, Wade Mark, said no information had reached his party as to the conclusions of the symposium, adding that it is incredible that the Prime Minister could have drawn such conclusive evidence.

"His statement appears to be ill-informed. He must understand that 89 per cent of the population in two surveys conducted... said that they didn't want any aluminium smelters.

"The Prime Minister should pursue a new line of industrialisation," Mark said.


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