"We want it."
"Give it a chance."
"We need this now that they are shutting down Petrotrin."
"It will bring real benefits to the area and I need a job...even if it just as a cleaner."
"The youths here need something to do and to have something to believe in as we have nothing now."
These are the words of residents both in La Brea and Point Fortin who say the La Brea Dry-Dock Project wil be welcomed with open arms.
Mindful that T&T lost a golden opportunity in 2017 after BP opted not to build the Angelin platform in La Brea—due mainly in part to industrial protests and contractual delays—Government is hoping history will not repeat itself this time around.
However, officials at La Brea MP Nicole Ollivierre's office expressed a degree of scepticism as they said, "The proof is in the pudding. They can say anything now but their actions down the road will speak their truth."
Appealing to people to give the project a chance, the officials said, "Come on board and do your best. It is an opportunity for the area to shine and in a time when the economy is so dim, La Brea is getting a wonderful opportunity to showcase itself."
Energy Minister Franklin Khan has also urged residents to grasp the opportunities the project would bring as he appealed to them not to be influenced by those who could scare off potential investors as was the case prior.
Signed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on September 7 Government, through the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco), entered into a Cooperation Agreement with China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC) for the development of dry-docking facilities at La Brea.
The deal with CHEC is part of China’s larger Belt and Road Initiative—a US $4 trillion project ostensibly designed to increase trade and cultural ties between China and the rest of Asia along the old Silk Road Route.
A random poll of residents, business owners, and visitors to La Brea and Point Fortin last week revealed they were in support of the project.
Brenda Cashe said, "It is a very good idea for the area and environs. It is excellent and seeing as how we have this situation with Petrotrin, it will offset the fallout from that."
Seated in her boutique located just off the Point Fortin Main Road, Cashe said she has been operating Roslyn's Dress Shop & Variety Store for the past 20 years and witnessed the benefits and pitfalls that accompanied development in the energy sector.
Indicating she would welcome any move to improve the lives of citizens, Cashe implored people to let good sense prevail.
She said, "It would not be the right thing to do to (scare off investors) as internationally, everybody wants better for his or her country and if this is something that will bring betterment for the country, I don't see why we would want to scare them off, that is not good at all. Give them a chance."
While Deborah Charles-Alexander was also in support of it, she said caution was needed as there was a possibility that contraband items could easily be brought into the country under the guise of trade and development.
Calling for greater security measures to be implemented, the 58-year-old said the authorities must "get very serious with it because we already have so many drugs and killing here, we don't want any more of that".
Doubles vendor Indar Samlal said, "I welcome it because it will bring employment for the people and growth for the area."
Admitting business had slowed considerably in the past couple months, he was optimistic as he said, "It will be better for us."
Samlal, who has been operating his business for around 20 years, said, "Give it a chance. I see it as a plus for the area and for the country."
Giving his name only as Michael, a 59-year-old fruit-vendor from the area was more sceptical. He questioned, "They are doing a good thing, but how do we know they will give Trinidadians work?"
He said he, however, believed in moving forward with the economic development of T&T even if it meant capital investment coming from outside.
Bracing for Petrotrin closure
Ian "Sadiq" Nimblett said, "From an employment and business standpoint, there are benefits to be derived by all. The kind of revenue it would also bring forward for La Brea and Point Fortin is enormous."
Focusing on the fact that it will not only be a dry-dock but a trading facility, the 59-year-old Point Fortin resident added, "I think it is progressive and timely especially with Petrotrin being shut down, it will fill a void.
"We have to have a bigger vision, we can't stay thinking negative all the time because this will bring a lot of exposure and improvements to lives and stuff. It is a positive move."
Hoping it will be something good for the people, Claudia Jeremiah is bracing for the fallout from Petrotrin's closure as she shook her head sadly and said, "It will soon become a ghost town."
Bar operator Stacy Alexis said, "Anything that will bring employment for the people of the area, I am in support of."
However, she is fearful that the benefits may not be fully realised by residents.
"Let them come because we need employment and there are plenty of young people in these areas who are not employed and things are getting harder everywhere."
'Betterment for the area'
Similar sentiments echoed throughout La Brea as residents there too, added their voices to welcoming the facility.
Jean King, 62, jokingly said, "This old lady too looking for employment even if it is a cleaning work. I am totally happy as it will bring employment for the younger ones."
Gesturing to her husband as he cleaned under their modest wooden house, King said, "I have a house which needs to be repaired so somewhere along the line, things will boost up."
Looking forward to the spin-off benefits, she said many stood to benefit in some way.
Pulling on the cigarette clutched between her right index and middle fingers as the rain poured down, King dismissed those ready to rail against it as she said, "I would not say it is about the Chinese taking over. I know the hard times and good times, I lived through it all when it was balanced and not balanced and I am saying give it a chance, it will be worth it. It could only mean the betterment of the area."
Dwayne Bishop, 50, said, "It is a good thing and with Petrotrin closing down, if it really comes through, it will give the youths and them something to do."
Selling fruits for the past 30 years at the San Fernando Market, Bishop, rearranging the fruits on his small table along the main road, said, "This will help out especially now, so I welcome it."
Referring to themselves as the Market Caucus as they sought shelter from the rain, the group consisting of both old and young declined to offer names.
Claiming he was the voice of the group, a senior said, "When we see it start, it is only then we will know if it is a good opportunity for the people of La Brea."
Wary of such promises, he said, "Remember the Prime Minister told us when he won elections we will get a ply board factory and it is three years already and nothing is going on as yet."
A second man pointed in the direction of the La Brea Industrial Estate as he laughingly exclaimed, "Hopefully is not another promise...we keeping our fingers crossed! We not going with his word just so, but once things start and we start to see progress, it will be a different story."
Accepting that it would be a timely venture as it would absorb some of the Petrotrin workers, one of the younger men present said, "It would make it harder for us who waiting to get work, as it will now have more people on the breadline. We the youths just want a chance to make a dollar when the day comes. "
Energy Minister urges residents to embrace project
Two weeks ago, Energy Minister Franklin Khan urged people to grasp the opportunities the facility would bring.
And he urged residents not to let those against it disrupt the potential for development and economic turnaround.
He said, "If we do not get these types of major capital injection, our potential for economic growth will be very dim."
Khan said China was the second largest economy in the world and its global trade in goods had positioned it ahead of the US.
Former minister on lost opportunity
In April 2017, former energy minister Kevin Ramnarine estimated the decision not to build the Angelin platform in La Brea had cost T&T an investment of approximately US $80 million or $550 million TT; direct employment of 200 jobs; work for ten subcontractors of TOFCO; business for around 100 suppliers of TOFCO; loss of corporation tax and VAT; and indirect employment.
In addition to the reputational hit T&T suffered in the eyes of the international oil and gas fraternity, Ramnarine said the wasted opportunity was made more painful by the knowledge that it could have been avoided.
At the time, Ramnarine said, "We cannot continue on this path of progressive uncompetitiveness. If we do it will become our own road to serfdom. The world of global business is unforgiving and unrelenting. It waits for no man. While we vacillate, other countries in this hemisphere are moving ahead."
PM defends CHEC
Despite the knowledge that China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd (CHEC) was once blacklisted by the World Bank for bribery and fraud allegations, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is adamant the project will move forward.
Although it has not yet been announced exactly how much this venture will cost T&T, Government is happy with CHEC's decision to accept a 30 per cent equity in the new facility.
The company has been the subject of negative reports coming out of West Africa, Guinea, Bangladesh, and the Cayman Islands, with reports alleging bribery, fraud or corruption allegations being levelled against it.
In June, the New York Times reported the outgoing Sri Lankan government had signed a billion-dollar deal with the company, but the incoming government struggled to make payments on those debts and was forced to hand over its new port as well as 15,000 acres of land surrounding it.
Back in 2014, the United National Congress (UNC) signed a similar deal with the same company for the development of an economic zone, a transshipment port, and dry-docking facilities.
About the La Brea dry-dock facility
An online video provides a virtual layout of the proposed ship-yard which has been described as an ideal economically, logistically, and environmentally friendly facility that will feature two dry docks and 15 berths occupying 361 hectares of land.
The first phase will feature two dry docks and one berth for maintenance and repair of vessels.
Other aspects of the project will include a pier; a navigational access channel; a turning circle and berth basin; land reclamation; revetments; workshops; administration buildings; a training centre; staff accommodations; support facilities and utilities; and access roads.
It is projected to generate approximately US $500 million in revenue annually, which would represent a 2.4 per cent addition to the T&T's GDP.
During the four year construction period, it is expected that 3,500 direct and 5,700 indirect jobs will be created.