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Commendable Las Cuevas intervention

Friday, April 8, 2016

Clearly more needs to be done to sensitise developers to their responsibilities to the environment, their neighbours and to their clients in managing land development transparently and sustainably.

Last week, a massive land clearing exercise at Las Cuevas quickly drew the attention of visitors to Maracas as well as environmental activist Gary Aboud, noted for his energetic objections to actions that imperil local shores as part of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS).

It’s also notable that the owner of the lands, George Aboud, is Gary Aboud’s first cousin and he did not choose to play favourites with his family when it came to the environmental protection issue he has made his signature concern.

At stake are 468 acres of land owned by George Aboud, which the FFOS representative worried would represent a dangerous shift in the freshwater and saltwater balance after rains run off the now denuded forest area.

FFOS challenged the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to respond to their concerns within 60 days.

To their credit they did so in less than six, and after investigations, a notice of violation was served on George Aboud regarding the clearing of 19 hectares of land at Las Cuevas.

The Las Cuevas development will now proceed under guidelines to be agreed on between the EMA and the developers. The next step of the process is for the EMA to review information and data provided by the land owner’s side of the discussion.

George Aboud claims that it was all a misunderstanding, that there were approvals from the EMA and that the work had been continuing in small pieces over the last three years.

What visitors to Maracas Valley saw last week was a more robust effort at developing the land as part of a project that George Aboud explained would cost as much as a billion dollars and would be focused on tourism and luxury vacations.

As environmental violations go, this was both a commendable as well as a textbook case of reporting, action and compliance.

This is not often the case in such contentious matters and Mr Aboud is to be commended for accepting his error and publicly expressing his willingness to abide by the rulings of the EMA.

But there are questions that linger even after what seems to be the rare dovetailing of the public interest, environmental concerns and private sector development.

Mr Aboud noted that the material that was cleared was burned on site. Was this fire done with proper permits and with appropriate supervision?

There seemed to be a cavalierness about the land clearing, which was surprising given the extent of it, its visibility and the predictable response of the public to what appeared to be wholesale destruction of the natural habitat bordering one of the country’s more popular beaches.

“No. It have nothing to do with the fish at the bay,” George Aboud told the T&T Guardian’s reporter. 

But that too is a problem. 

The balance of nature, particularly at an intersection of the elements of earth and water as the country learned after the massive 2013 Petrotrin oil spill, isn’t something that’s readily predictable and errors should lie firmly on the side of caution.

Settling the debate on the long term impact of a fundamental change to the geography of Las Cuevas shouldn’t wait for years to come. 

Enough is known about the delicate marine relationship between rivers and the sea, particularly in a fishing village, for the EMA to offer clear guidance to developers working in such a delicate ecological environment.

Clearly more needs to be done to sensitise developers to their responsibilities to the environment, their neighbours and to their clients in managing land development transparently and sustainably.


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