Commissioner of State Lands Emeris Garraway-Howell and a team from the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries yesterday swooped down on two illegal quarries at Vega de Oropouche in East Trinidad.
Acting on intelligence Garraway-Howell and her team together with police officers from the Northern Division Task Force Central Area went to a remote area where an illegal operation began about two months ago.
The team, however, was off to a rocky start as they did not get the prompt assistance and support from the T&T Defence Force as initially promised.
Two people who were arrested near an excavator on the first site.
Other people escaped by running through a thickly forested area.
Officials said had soldiers been on the exercise from the start the other people would have been detained.
“We were told that they (Defence Force) didn’t have any vehicles up and running and capable of doing the job...but later in the day, they extended their assistance, “ Garraway-Howell told the Guardian Media.
A watchman in his 30s, who was hired to do private security work on an adjacent parcel of land, was also detained by police but later released after enquiries.
At the second site, located at an area called Five acres, was a massive operation was uncovered which is usually active at nights. There were four excavators on site but no personnel.
Officials said they have information about the people behind the illegal operations and intend to pursue them.
Soldiers were stationed at both sites overnight to guard the equipment.
Garraway-Howell said all equipment and tools located on both sites will be seized and taken to the grounds of Camp Cumuto.
The Commissioner of State Lands issued a warning to illegal miners. “Stop what you are doing. I am on the job now. You can face hefty fines and imprisonment. We are going to prevent and stop this type of activity.”
“This is corruption at its heights...this is, in fact, stealing from the coffers of T&T,” she added.
She revealed that in two weeks there will be another exercise in which officials from the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries will be involved.
TTDF’s public relations officer Lt Monique Sprott assured that support would be rendered.
“The Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) informs that it is an active partner with the Commissioner of State Lands and is currently engaged in discussions with the Commissioner of State Lands reference arrangements for assistance based on the availability of TTDF resources,” Sprott said.