‘East Coast’ residents blaze EPA for ignoring health concerns in waiving environmental impact assessment for cement plant
- assessment Board to decide whether EPA erred, favoured developer
Residents of several East Coast Demerara (ECD) communities blasted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday for neglecting to consider their health and safety by waiving the need for an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for a proposed concrete bagging, storage, and distribution facility.
The proposed facility is intended to be constructed at Tract A, Le Ressouvenir, ECD, within metres of residences in Le Ressouvenir, Happy Acres and Felicity. The developer is Vista Trading and Logistics (Guyana) Inc, a company owned by two Trinidadian siblings and their Guyanese mother. Managing Director, Vinush Dindial, is also Director of the sister company, VKD Transport Limited, which operates out of Couva, Trinidad.
Due to the nature of the proposed facility, residents of surrounding communities disagree with the location, citing adverse health and environmental risks.
Moreover, the residents are concerned by the seemingly irregular manner in which the EPA has exercised its statutory duties in considering the developer’s application for environmental authorization.
Specifically, the EPA has decided to dispense with the requirement of an ESIA, despite provisions in the EPA Act. An ESIA is a study of the potential impact the proposed project might have on the surrounding environment, including the steps the project’s developer would put in place to reduce or avoid the severity of the impact.
Moen Mc Doom Jr., an affected resident and an attorney-at-law, contends that people’s health and well-being are under threat and that the EPA is showing scant regard for this.
“I think the EPA owes the residents and the citizens of Guyana the basic duty before they can waive something,” Mc Doom Jr. said during a public hearing before the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) on Thursday. This board is expected to be an independent body and it is chaired by Omkar Lochan.
For context, when applications for proposed projects are received by the EPA, they are screened to determine whether an ESIA is required. According to the EPA, if they find that an ESIA is not required, a public notice is placed in the newspaper, outlining the EPA’s decision.
Through this notice, affected or concerned parties can raise their concerns and objections about the EPA’s decision not to require an ESIA. What the residents found disturbing, however, is the fact that the EPA opted to place this public notice only once in a singular newspaper – The Guyana Chronicle – and as such, only one appeal was filed by Singer Guyana Inc. and Shahabudeen Ahmad through their attorney at law, Siand Dhurjon.
Residents of the surrounding neighbourhoods only became aware of the October 7 public hearing after learning about it from an article in an online publication. As a result, they decided to file a petition to the EPA to raise their concerns and objections.
At the hearing, however, Mr Lochan informed the attendees, who comprised residents in-person and via Zoom, that the purpose of the meeting was to hear technical evidence solely from the appellants justifying their objection to the EPA’s decision to waive the ESIA.
In his presentation, Dhurjon indicated that his clients had requested to view the documents used by the EPA to arrive at their decision to waive the ESIA, namely the screening score and the monitoring tool. Without this information, Dhurjon said his clients could not be satisfied that the EPA effectively met their statutory requirements in ascertaining how the work of the proposed facility would adversely impact residents in the surrounding areas.
This request was not met by the EPA, which has failed to provide any information in this regard.
Dhurjon pointed out that the EPA Act states that developmental activity that may cause an adverse effect on the natural environment must be assessed before the activity commences. If it may significantly affect the environment, then an ESIA is mandated.
Dhurjon highlighted some of the risks associated with the proposed facility, including exposure to harmful air pollutants linked to severe health conditions such as reduced lung development in children, asthma, bronchitis, heart disease and cancer.
“They (the EPA) are coming to the developer’s aid,” Dhurjon told the EAB, alleging that the EPA has waived the need for this assessment to expedite the company’s development at the expense of Guyanese citizens’ welfare.
EPA’S INABILITY TO ANSWER QUESTIONS
Odessa Duncan, the EPA Project Officer responsible for the project, presented at the hearing how they arrived at their decision to waive the need for an ESIA.
Duncan was asked several critical questions in relation to the potential impacts assessed by the EPA: air quality, noise, water quality and social concerns.
These questions included details on the zoning of the area, the facility’s capacity, the proposed number of trucks, the decibel output of the equipment on-site, and, most critically, information on the ventilation mechanism of the proposed structure. This last point was crucial since the developer’s proposal hinged the project’s environmental safety on the location of its operations indoors to prevent the escape of the cement dust into the atmosphere.
Duncan, however, was unable to answer many of these questions on behalf of the EPA, which led the residents to doubt the EPA’s basis for deciding to waive the need for the ESIA.
Residents were also concerned by Duncan’s referral to the developers in formulating her responses and her presentation’s reliance on the assertions made by the developer in its project proposal and a site visit conducted when no activities had yet commenced.
NO PERMISSION GRANTED YET
During her presentation, Duncan admitted that the EPA has not yet approved the project and pointed out that approvals from other agencies, including the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) and the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC), are still outstanding.
In the discussion room of the Zoom meeting, Chairman of the Better Hope-LBI NDC, Mr Sheik Samsair, indicated that he was very concerned by the project and that many of the Councillors were not in agreement.
THE EAB’S DECISION
The EAB is now expected to deliberate on the matter, address the residents’ concerns, and determine if only an EMP would suffice.
By virtue of the EPA’s failure to satisfactorily answer the residents’ questions, Mc Doom Jr. contended that the EPA has neglected the health and safety concerns. Dhurjon also stated that by not requiring an ESIA, which is a consultative process, the residents had no opportunity to participate in the process.
No indication was given as to when the EAB will decide or how the decision would be communicated to the residents. However, it is important to note that Dhurjon stated that if no favourable solution is met, some of the residents will be instituting court proceedings against the EPA to protect their interests.