Property owners affected by the 53-acre ANR Robinson International Airport project will be paupers by November and not even the Government or the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) can help. Government said the project will begin in November.
Rhonda Hackett, chairman of the Provide Equivalent Equitable Compensation for Everyone (PEECE) Movement said residents are not against the project, they simply want to know how and when they will be relocated and compensated.
Hackett, who is not now affected as the acreage required for the airport has decreased from just over 80 acres to 53, remains at the helm of the PEECE Movement as family members and neighbours are affected. "I won't just walk away," she said.
While the vast majority of affected property owners have clear title to their lands and will be compensated others do not, she said.
In the first instance, the lands are on their ancestors' names, and while many have begun to administrate for the properties, they do not know how long it will take.
In the other case, people who were first earmarked for relocation were told in 2010 that the expansion plan had changed and they could continue to occupy and build houses. In 1996 they were offered $4 per square foot for their lands, classed as agricultural.
"They are in a technical position as although there was a billboard showing they were in the expansion zone, a subsequent meeting held by the Government in 2010 informed them that their lands were no longer needed," Hackett said.
Based on that information, resident Wolvin Lovell got Town and Country Planning approval and put up two properties from which he earns an income. "Now I am being offered $50 per square foot for my lands because it is classed under agriculture, while lands in the area are being priced at $250 per square foot." He is not sure if he will be in the same economic position when he is compensated.
Additionally, two other groups of people continue to occupy the lands. "Those are squatters who have been occupying the lands for a while. They are in the one per cent category," Hackett said.
And some still remain on the lands although the Government paid their parents $4 per square foot in 1996. However, they are just a few, Tobago Today understands.
THA responds to property owners issues
Weighing in on the issue, Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Kelvin Charles said the THA can examine how it can help the residents whose parents were already paid for the lands. He stopped short of giving any guarantees that the Assembly will be able to help.
He said in the case where the property owners were occupying lands that were not in their names, the THA has to follow the law and issue cheques in the names of the deceased relatives.
"The legal position will be that whatever legal compensation to be provided will be put in escrow. We have to follow the law and pay, and the estate will then have the opportunity to go and administrate for the lands."
He is advising those affected residents to "hurry up" with the process of administration."The ball is in their court to resolve this matter now before it is too late," the Chief Secretary said.
Charles reiterated the THA's position of helping the property owners. "It's a policy position that we will give fair compensation, including land if so desired, but we cannot do more than that."