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George: ‘Good news’

By ANDRE BAGOO Friday, February 15 2013

MINISTER of Works and Infrastructure Emmanuel George yesterday described an unsigned report of the Independent Review Committee on the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway, submitted to him a week ago, as “good news” for the people of TT, since it made no all-out recommendation to stop the project.

At the same time, George did not release the 257-page document which he displayed yesterday at a post-Cabinet media briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair. He made clear that the project will move forward.

“I want to say that on my reading of the report, I think that whatever else it does...it brings good news to the population in that it indicates the highway should be built,” George said. He identified three findings in the report as key. The first relates to the chosen route.

“The report finds that the chosen route is considered superior from an overall perspective and that is from an overall perspective and I quote from the document. Secondly, the report states the finding of a recent traffic study concludes that the Highway Reroute Movement’s proposal is not the preferable one as it does not provide for traffic growth into the future and in turn up to 2030.

“And the third bit of good news...the report highlighted, in my view, that a hydrology report for the highway — which was done in 2007 — as adequate for the bridge and culvert design for the highway crossing. In essence therefore, the issue of flooding is set aside by that report and the findings of the committee,” George said.

He added that the committee had no issues with the environmental impact. “The committee’s findings, as indicated in their report, have no issue with the route of the highway or impact on the environment.” In later answering a reporter’s question, he said, “The report finds that there is no significant threat, so to speak, to wetlands.”

He thanked members of the committee which authored the report, chaired by Independent Senator James Armstrong, but could not say who would pay for the report or its possible cost.

“I cannot say,” George said, when questioned by Newsday.

The Minister’s statements came before the formal release of the report, via a posting today on the Joint Consultative Council’s (JCC) website. The JCC called for an independent committee to review the Mon Desir to Debe section of the highway.

George himself questioned why the report was not signed. “We take this report guardedly because it does not seem, in my view, to be a final one as it does not seem to be signed by the chairman or any members of the committee. So we are thinking it is more than likely a preliminary report. It is perhaps a work in progress,” George said.

“I want to allay the fears of the population that the report’s findings would have been negative in respect of construction of the Highway and in particular Mon Desir. We thought we should bring the good news to the population. I know people will be asking questions and so on and so we felt we should give them some bit of information as to what the report has revealed. There is some good news in the report.”

George did say the report had areas of criticism. “What the committee, in my view, appears to have a problem with – and I say this guardedly — is with the approach taken by the authorities in the process of building the highway itself.

“Specifically for example, that there should be more consultation with stakeholders, with those people who have to be relocated. It also suggests better arrangements for provision of alternative land should have been done well in advance. It suggests too that better arrangements to negotiating compensation should have been made so a lot of these things should have been addressed before actually proceeding with construction.”

“There are other findings in the report but we plan to take the advice in good spirit and as far as possible to seek to accommodate their suggestions and recommendations as we seek to build the highway,” George said. “We also note that in several instances the committee’s findings speak to the way that things should be done in the future and I think that those suggestions will be taken in hand.” However, the Minister had criticisms for aspects of the report.

“I think that I should also point out that there are certain errors of fact in the document and it may have been because certain agencies like the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure and the Environmental Management Authority — I use just two examples — there are others, should have been consulted so statements made would have been more accurate than they were.”

He said state agencies should be given a chance to respond to the report. “In the interest of natural justice, I think my Ministry, the Environmental Management Authority, NIDCO and so on should be given a chance to perhaps comment on the report and correct these inaccuracies,” George said.

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