Work on the billion-dollar Toco Ferry Port is scheduled to start mere weeks before the 2020 general election.
Request for approvals for the mega project has already been submitted to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) by the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO), according to its chairman Herbert George.
NIDCO has full responsibility for the project which George is eager to get off the ground to stimulate industrial, commercial, ecotourism and residential activity in the underdeveloped northeastern region which has a population of over 75,000.
On Wednesday, George sat down with Guardian Media at his El Socorro office to give an update on the project which has begun to take shape. He said in the third quarter of 2020 one is expected to see "boots on the ground on that project."
Construction of the port which will be done in phases is expected to take 30 months.
Questioned about the cost of the project, George said the last estimate they received was "$900 million."
This figure, George said, can escalate.
"The engineer was detailed in his estimate. If there is to be any increase, in that, it is not likely to be exorbitant."
Asked if the Toco Port—Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley's pet project—will be a priority for the Government and funds will be readily available, George replied, "I cannot second guess the Government to say whether it would be a priority for them. But to the extent that it is, we are here to deliver it.
"You may have issues with funding. You may not have all the money that you need. But there are competing interests that you have to service. You cannot say for example you don't have money now, so let us put infrastructural development on hold until you get the money. You might say because you have less money now you cannot handle as many projects as you would have liked to. But some things must be done."
George said one had to look at what is important and divide the money you have.
If a new Government is formed in 2020, George said chances are that construction of the port can be delayed.
"The way these things work...a government may come in and say they don't want the port because they have a different priority. Another might come in and run with the port."
Gov't gets the ball rolling with $196 m Valencia to Toco Road upgrade
In November 2016, Rowley announced the construction of the ferry port which he said would bring great opportunities and generate economic growth to communities in the region.
To get the ball rolling, Rowley and Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan turned the sod in March for the construction of a $196 million road upgrade from Valencia to Toco Road which will be used as the port's direct route.
Work on the 12.4 kilometre roadway is expected to be completed in 13 months.
The idea for a port was conceived from as early as 1990—some three decades ago—by a consortium of consultants called "Sea Bridge Team" who conducted a feasibility study for a sea bridge service between Trinidad and Tobago.
The consultants confirmed that Toco was an ideal location for a ferry port.
George said the port will be a multi-purpose facility divided into five sections—a two-storey ferry terminal building, fishing complex, two-storey port administration office building, capitainerie and Coast Guard base.
He said based on the project's footprint, NIDCO had already applied to the EMA for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
"That EIA has been going on for some time. A conceptual design was done. We needed to have a design to approach the EMA."
George said NIDCO has already procured international EIA consultant Environmental Resources Management (ERM) to ensure that everything is done above board.
"We are using that foreign consultant to do the EIA for the port. At the end of this year a report from the EIA consultant is due."
This report must be submitted to the EMA who has to respond in four months.
NIDCO would then apply for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC)
"Even if, when we get the CEC there is a tendency for people to raise lots of objections until it settles down and the work will then proceed."
This, George said, was his biggest challenge with the project.
Once clearance is given, George said tenders would go out and a contract will be awarded.
"I suspect in the third quarter of 2020 one will actually see boots on the ground on that project," George said.
Upon completion of each phase, George said it will be opened.
"One does not require to have all those facilities here before you open."
Toco Fishing Facility to be relocated
George said the only business that will be relocated to make way for the port is the Toco Fishing Facility which is used by the fisherfolk.
"There is no relocation cost involved because of where the port is located."
He said the port will provide accommodation for two fast ferries, 40 marinas, 50 fishing vessels including the Coast Guard boats.
The Galleons Passage, which accommodates 600 passengers and 200 vehicles, George said, will service the seabridge from Toco to Tobago.
It would take 45 minutes from Toco to Scarborough compared to the three-hour sailing time from Port-of-Spain to Tobago.
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Jobs for the people of the region
A 1998 study undertaken by a team, George said, showed a lack of economic activity in the northeastern region.
The region also has the highest poverty rate in the country with hundreds of residents out of jobs.
"That is what guided the whole decision and thinking of the port. To look at ways in which one can do some infrastructural development in that area to generate employment and economic growth."
While the report may be outdated, George said the northeastern region has not improved economically.
"If nothing...things have gotten worse."
"The port will be like a growth centre there. It will also boost our tourism sector."
He said Toco has a lot to offer with its fishing and agriculture sectors which needed to be tapped into.
When construction begins, George said, labourers, masons, electricians, plumbers, security officers, welders, supervisors and engineers are some of the employment opportunities that will be available.
Following completion, George said jobs such as security officers, janitors, administrative staff, fishing net menders, vendors, maintenance workers, waiters, cooks, landscapers, electricians, plumbers and shipwright can be obtained.
A spin-off from the port, George said was the operation of the Coast Guard base which would protect our borders.
While some citizens have argued that the port will bring no benefits to the region and its people, George disagreed saying it was all about vision.
"People said the same thing when the Point Lisas port was being developed...and look at it today. That is what governments do. You have to look at your country and see how best to use resources and develop what we have so there will be greater value added at the end of the day for your people."
What the Toco Port will offer
•The terminal building will comprise a public concourse, baggage storage, offices, retail kiosks, public lifts, bar gallery, VIP lounge and parking for staff and public.
•Included in the fisheries complex will be a police post, retail and commercial spaces, car park for 60 vehicles, fishing net and boat repair yards, ice maker and fish and water storages, gas station, fish market hall and a village incorporating a bandstand, toilets, fish stalls, garden and amphitheatre.
•The capitainerie will be equipped with a dingy dock, porte-cochere, offices, reception areas, customs and security officers, car park, retail outlets, boatyard, dining terrace/balcony, fishing outlets and marinas members club lounge.
•Listed in the Coast Guard base are offices, briefing room, galley, base commander's office, reception security and waiting rooms, mess hall, armoury, male and female quarters.
•The port administration office will consist of offices, customs and administration, maintenance and plant rooms, security, waiting and reception areas, staff rooms, storage and pilots' facilities.