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.