Guave Road farmers are calling on Planning Minister Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie and the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) to reveal to the public the real scope of phase two of the Chaguaramas Development Project.President of the Guave Road Farmers Association, Joseph Richardson, is making the call on behalf of his members, who claim that the land area scheduled for development is much bigger than what the public is being told.
Speaking with the Sunday Guardian on Wednesday, Richardson said, "What the CDA didn't mention or include in the CEC (certificate of environmental clearance) they received from the EMA (Environmental Management Authority) was the 100 acres of Wetlands 55.
"They claim that Wetlands 55 is just the Cuesa River only, which is 40 feet across, but the wetlands extend over 800 metres from the Cuesa River heading east to the Guave Road entrance on the Western Main Road and they're shielding that from the public."If it was mentioned that so many acres of vital ecosystems of mangroves and prime agricultural land would be destroyed for housing and recreational development, work could not have started on the project."
He added, "Most people don't know that mangrove forests provide protection against beach erosion, storms, tsunamis and floods. "The tsunami that hit Asia in 2005, there were no deaths in areas where there were mangrove forests compared to those areas without coverage that suffered massive casualties."
In advancing his argument, Richardson said there were two sluice gates built by the US soldiers during World War II at the road next to the Chaguaramas Boardwalk that were now covered with large rocks and plants. He said the sluice gates' purpose was to drain the wetlands, which was a catchment area that collected water during the rainy season.
He said when the water reached a certain level, like three feet, it was gradually released into the sea and the sluice gates were so designed that water from the wetlands could go out but seawater could not enter.He said if the sluice gates were covered with concrete and the wetlands filled to begin housing development,not only would the wetlands, beachfront and major parts of the peninsula be flooded, but traffic chaos would ensue and families would be displaced.
"It will be like the Red Bull Flugtag 2011 traffic nightmare every day in Chaguaramas," he said.Richardson said the farmers believed the CDA was catering to the elite and to foreigners.He said the CDA wanted access to the entire front of Tucker Valley for its grand plan, which entailed creating an exclusive area for the business elite. This included restaurants, resorts jutting out of the Boardwalk, cable cars in the air, a game park, water park and a golf course, he said.
He pointed out that the CDA was very clever in its operations, doing the project in incremental stages–phase one was the Boardwalk to please the "common people" followed by its extension and the mega development projects for the super rich.Richardson claimed a jetty scheduled for construction not too far off from the Alcoa jetty was in reality a windbreaker for the yachts the CDA wanted to cater for inside the Carenage basin.
Tewarie: Concerns weighed in plans
Planning Minister Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie says the concerns of the farmers, residents and special interest groups had been taken into consideration and the current construction work being done in the peninsula would ease the congestion in the long run.
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian, Tewarie said, "Ironically, the question posed addresses precisely why the Guave Extension Road project was envisaged in the first place, that is, to reduce traffic congestion and make for a safer, easier access into and out of Chaguaramas.
"But access to and from Chaguaramas will continue to be a problem until we build an alternative route and this is what we're considering now. But it can only get to the consultation and possibly design stage this year. The actual road to and from Chaguaramas will be a second-term project."
He added, "The CDA has conducted a careful development plan for the peninsula that considers so many needs, the meticulous preservation of the natural environment, the allocation of the best areas for agricultural purposes, the optimisation of road networks, the people-centred development of the community, the creation of thousands of jobs, the execution of world-class recreational facilities and the ideal of making Chaguaramas an area of opportunity for all."
Tewarie said he met with consultants recently and gave his input and he was satisfied they would have a people-centred plan for the sustainable development of Chaguaramas very soon.Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar opened phase two of the boardwalk project at Chaguaramas on December 18, while a group of Guave Road farmers protested a short distance away on the Carenage Main Road.
She said phase two would entail an extended boardwalk, activity pond and food court. Work to develop Chaguaramas to its full potential would continue with the CDA's plans, she said, which included world-class marinas, hotels, waterfront restaurants, an amusement park and a golf course resort.
The PM said several upgrades were also scheduled, such as the Chaguaramas Hotel and Convention Centre, a golf course to meet international standards, Chagville Beach rehabilitation and the reafforestation of hills and green spaces.
She said the objections to the project did not matter, as plans for Chaguaramas would bring the peninsula back to the people. The PM said the Government was aware of the traffic woes in Chaguaramas and "novel" access points were included in the plans.
De Verteuil: Brace for traffic, flooding
With the onset of the new year, upcoming Carnival activities, coupled with development works at Guave Road, Tucker Valley, mean residents and visitors alike should brace for traffic gridlock in the northwest peninsula.This is the view of Marc de Verteuil, a director of the Papa Bois Conservation group.
Speaking with the Sunday Guardian at Guave Road, while construction work was going on, De Verteuil said the CDA's intent was to build a 6.75 acre car park, farmers' market and tramway. Construction of all this infrastructure, he said, was a logistical transport nightmare in the making.He said Chaguaramas already suffered from daily traffic jams that could take an hour or more to navigate and there was no transport or infrastructure capacity to allow for additional people entering the peninsula.
De Verteuil said 21st-century mass transport was needed to fulfil Chaguaramas' transit needs. He said flooding could also compound traffic problems in the area.
Just last month, the CDA issued an apology for the traffic congestion due to the infrastructural drainage and water works being carried out in Chaguaramas to alleviate flooding that had become commonplace.
He said the CDA's plan included the repaving and expansion of roads, construction of a bicycle path, a tramway, a farmers' market and a "frighteningly massive" 27,300-square-metre car park, approximately 6.75 acres, which would destroy the ambiance of the area. He said for all intents and purposes, Guave Road was a part of Tucker Valley, an area rich in biodiversity and of huge importance for recreation.
De Verteuil said this was simply the wrong kind of development for this particular location. He said Tucker Valley–where there wre red howler monkeys and ocelots, among a plethora of other animals–was turning into a suburban park for Port-of-Spain. He said the area was part of the World War II naval base and represented a wild area close to the capital city of T&T.
Tucker Valley unique
De Verteuil said Tucker Valley was unique and irreplaceable, as well as popular, because it was natural and easily accessible. He said it was a major part of what made Chaguaramas a popular recreation area and Guave Road was the first phase of a creeping development into Tucker Valley.He said he was not opposed to sustainable development, but the planned project was not the ecotourism that was required but rather was a zoning mistake of the first order.
De Verteuil said there was enough unused land in Chaguaramas outside of Tucker Valley where low-impact high-rise car parks could be built. He said Tucker Valley should be declared a national park in order to protect it. Many people falsely believed that development was not allowed in Tucker Valley, he said, but there was no legislation to prevent it.
He said he was inviting concerned citizens and users of Chaguaramas to form an independent lobby group so that all stakeholders would be adequately represented. De Verteuil can be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com
The Sunday Guardian's queries regarding the concerns of Chaguaramas residents, farmers and environmentalists were also sent to the CDA and the EMA which did not respond.