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Residents bash EPA decision to exempt Trini Company’s cement facility from EIA

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Map showing the proposed location of the project (Source: Google Earth, 2020)

Kaieteur News - The intention of Trinidadian firm, Vista Trading and Logistics, to establish a storage and distribution facility for oil well cement at Tract A2 Felicity and Le Ressouvenir is not being well received by residents in these areas of the East Coast of Demerara.

Specifically, residents of Felicity, Happy Acres, Le Ressouvenir and Atlantic Gardens are of the firm belief that the project poses serious health risks, given the hazardous chemical composition of oil well cement. They have since objected to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to exempt the project from an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).


Over 20 residents registered their concerns about the project during a public hearing that was held virtually and in-person yesterday by the EPA’s Environmental Assessment Board (EAB).
Before appeals into the project were heard, the EAB allowed the developer and shareholder, Vinush Dindial, to make a presentation on the project. He noted that Vista’s parent company, which is based in Trinidad and Tobago, has been managing cement storage and deliveries for contractors serving Guyana’s oil industry. He said this was being done for the last five years. He said however, “Our objective and reason for starting our company in Guyana was due to the Directors of the company standing firm in their decision that our operation and staff should be based in Guyana to ensure that Guyanese staff and the economy could directly benefit from our operation rather than it being done from our Trinidad-based company.”


The Vista official further noted that the company identified the Le Ressouvenir location, since it is close to the shore base facilities, which would, therefore, reduce its environmental impact. The developer further noted that the equipment that would be used in the storage and distribution facility are modern and from the USA. He was keen to note as well that the operation at Le Ressouvenir would “include receiving, storing, and delivering large bags of cement to the customer’s location in Guyana where they can then process the cement at their sites.”


Following Dindial’s presentation, the EPA was required to provide reasons that underpinned its decision to exempt the project from an EIA. The EPA’s Representative on this matter was Odessa Duncan, who was quick to note that the application by the developer for environmental authorization was received on October 19, 2020. Duncan said it is the EPA’s understanding that the project would entail the distribution of oil well cement and the transfer of same to silos, then to bulk tanker wagons and trailers for transport to clients. The EPA official said all activities would be conducted in an enclosed warehouse, which would be constructed at the project location.
Duncan stressed that the approval process for the project is not completed, while adding that it is ongoing and would entail consultation with the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) and other stakeholders before being approved.


Duncan said prior to the EPA’s approval, an Environmental Assessment and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) must be submitted by the developer. Further to this protective measure, Duncan outlined that an EIA was not required since the potential impacts as identified by the developer in the project documents are not significant given that they are reversible, localized, and of low magnitude. She also said that the project documents detailed mitigation measures that the project will implement to alleviate identified impacts.


Since the EPA’s public hearing only allowed input from persons who formally submitted objections, Siand Dhurjon, Attorney-at-Law for Appellants, Shahabudeen Ahmad and Singer Guyana Inc, was first to speak.


During his remarks, Dhurjon expressed dissatisfaction with the EPA’s decision being made solely on the project proposal prepared by the developer, while adding that the industry regulator should have had an independent assessment and documents for consideration. Dhurjon further stated that residents remain unaware of the screening tool used by the EPA to assess the project, despite several requests for same.


Turning his attention to the project summary, Dhurjon noted that the developer and its affiliates have been dishonest, as they claimed Vista is a subsidiary of Toolsie Persaud Limited, a reputable Guyanese firm.This turned out not to be so.


While residents remain resolute in their belief that Vista is desirous of building a specialized cement batching facility despite claims to the contrary, Dhurjon said one fact remains irrefutable—the project will involve dangerous substances, which can have damaging effects that are detrimental to health. In light of the health risks, the lawyer said his clients are of the firm conviction that the project should not be allowed in Felicity and Le Ressouvenir.


Another Appellant who had 20 minutes to present, concurred with the viewpoints, and even raised several questions that the EPA ought to have considered during its review.


To prove his case that a thorough assessment was not done, he challenged the EPA to answer the following questions, among others: Was there any consultation with residents before exempting the project from an EIA? What is the volume of cement that would be stored in the facility? What is the capacity of the ships bringing the materials into Georgetown? How many trucks would be utilized to transport the cement between Georgetown and other locations? If staff members have to wear full eyewear, respirators and suits, then why does this not create sufficient concern to consult with residents before waving the EIA requirement? Why is it that the project summary was amended after the waiver of the EIA? Why was a separate period of 30 days for objections not held for objections to the amended document? Would there be any water storage tanks, fuel storage tanks and would the facility be running on GPL energy supply or on generators?


While most of the foregoing questions could not be answered by the EPA representative, the Appellant was keen to note that he does not agree with the facility being established in his neighbourhood, since it would be storing hazardous cement particulate that can pollute the airspace, and lead to cancer and ultimately death.


The EPA was keen to note that while it was not in a position to speak on the number of trucks or ships or quantity of cement to be stored at the proposed site, among other issues, the review process for project approval was not completed. It also noted that, while there was no consultation with residents, due to the concerns raised, this would now be considered.
Following the feedback received during the two hour long hearing, Dhurjon said he has been instructed by his clients to note that legal action would be taken if enough is not done to protect the interest of concerned citizens.