Dec 29 2006

“Smelter will kill fishing industry”

Trinidad Express

Errol McLeod yesterday bought fresh fish where he usually does-from a vendor at Otaheite Bay. But he feared it may not be long before he would not be able to do so.

Seuridge Seepersad, public relations officer of SOCA (South
Oropouche Citizens’ Association), at his home yesterday.

The president general of the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union is among a growing number of people concerned that fish supplies could be affected by the proposed construction of an aluminium smelter on an industrial site using reclaimed land off the bay.

“This is where I get my weekly supply of fresh fish and I hope nothing will be done to interfere with both the fish supply and the health of the residents,” McLeod said.

“If smelter operations will be deleterious to the health and social development of Chatham or any area of Trinidad and Tobago, it will be deleterious to Otaheite.”

Otaheite Bay is the commercial fish centre for a wide area of South Trinidad.

A large section of it has a growing middle- and upper-class residential area. It is also one of the nesting homes, at certain times of the year, for the Scarlet Ibis, one of the national birds, and some 36 other species of birds.

Yesterday, concerns were also expressed by residents and environmentalists over the smelter plan which was announced by Prime Minister Patrick Manning on Christmas Eve, after he said a decision had been taken not to go ahead with the Alcoa aluminium smelter at Chatham. Instead, he said a smelter plant will be built on the Oropouche Bank Estate Reclamation, which is in Otaheite Bay.

There already exists, at Otaheite, an industrial estate, called the Otaheite Industrial Estate, on which there are several small energy companies and a soft drink manufacturer.

As Government is in the throes of developing the estate, residents and private organisations from Gulf City, La Romaine, up to the village of Aripero, South Trinidad, are gearing up for a fight against the proposed smelter.

Seuridge Seepersad, public relations officer of South Oropouche Citizens’ Association (SOCA), said they were mobilising their members to start demonstrating against the construction of the smelter.

“We don’t want any smelter here; what we need is to develop the fishing industry at Otaheite,” he said

Seepersad said the effluent from the plant will affect the areas where the fish nest and, in no time, fishing in the area will be a thing of the past. He said in addition to the fishermen, some 3,000 people will be without meals if the industry dies.

Judy McLean, who heads a group called Neighbours Inc, has been in the forefront of the battle to ensure that the Scarlet Ibis and other birds and wildlife are not affected.

“A smelter here is a no no. This would cause displacement of several families, not to count the number of other problems we would have,” she said.

Speaking recently about the proposed estate, Prakash Saith, president of the National Energy Corporation, said: “This will be the largest reclamation project in the western hemisphere, comprising 1,400 hectares, and preliminary technical studies have already been completed, which indicated that the site is suitable for heavy industries.”

Saith said detailed studies were being undertaken to obtain a Certificate of Environmental Compliance approval, prior to undertaking construction works.

He said preliminary designs are to begin early next year.