ONWARD TO MON DESIR
By Richardson Dhalai Saturday, August 31 2013
With the Golconda to Debe stretch now open, construction now moves full speed ahead to Mon Desir as Government presses on with building the $7.5 billion highway between San Fernando to Point Fortin.
It took just five minutes, with little traffic, to drive from Golconda to Debe after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar cut the ribbon yesterday to open the first segment of the Solomon Hochoy Highway extension project to Point Fortin in south west Trinidad.
However, there would be a bottleneck for motorists on arrival at Debe if the traffic is unable to flow through Mon Desir, Persad-Bissessar declared at a commissioning ceremony. “You know what happens after. We need to build the Debe to Mon Desir leg of the highway and when we’re finished with the Mon Desir leg, we need to build the other places, the other legs,” Persad-Bissessar said. It cost $126 million to construct the Golconda to Debe route, the first segment in the Point Fortin Highway project. However, the Mon Desir route has been strongly objected to by some residents and protesters of the Highway Reroute Movement, led by activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, who claim construction through the community would damage the environment, make it prone to flooding and destroy fertile land.
Persad-Bissessar appealed to Kublalsingh and the protesters to consider “the greater good” and not their individual claims.
“It is easy reaching from here to Debe, what happens when we get to Debe now. What will happen, can you imagine, you are going to bottleneck down at Debe,” she told her audience.
In attendance were members of her Cabinet, workers of Construtora OAS, the Brazilian contractor, and an enthusiastic group of persons who support the highway’s construction. The group greeted Persad-Bissessar carrying signs with such messages as: “Build Debe to Mon Desir Now!”; “Prime Minister Build Debe to Mon Desir Next!” and “We Need Development in Debe to Mon Desir”.
The Prime Minister, in response, noted, “There are those who are saying, ‘Do not build it’. We have to consider the greater good and not the individual because there are thousands of people, of this country, who would benefit not just from this stage but from the other stages.”
“While we consider and give respect to the rights of individual citizens, at times we have to stop and pause and think for the greater good of the thousands who would benefit,” she continued, adding the benefits would include opening up of the southern region to business opportunities. Persad-Bissessar said the first section of the highway was built within budget and disclosed more than 75 families were relocated and 54 properties, including houses, were acquired by the State.
She also sought to put to rest concerns that her administration was only engaged in developmental works in south Trinidad saying the Diego Martin Highway extension was almost completed.
Last year, Kublalsingh staged a 21-day hunger strike outside the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, in a bid to get the State to halt the highway’s construction through Mon Desir. The Joint Consultative Council of the construction industry put together a team led by civil engineer Dr James Armstrong to review the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway. The HRM has since called on Government to implement recommendations of the Armstrong report. The HRM also filed for judicial review in the High Court which is pending. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister met with Kublalsingh, but cut short the meeting, saying in a statement she did so when Kublalsingh kept repeating the same questions and did not appear to accept her replies. Kublalsingh has since resumed sitting outside the Office of the Prime Minister and a small camp has been erected in the vicinity of the area where preliminary works have begun on the Debe to Mon Desir segment.
National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) chairman Dr Carson Charles at yesterday’s ceremony confirmed the Golconda to Debe leg was constructed within budget and did not cost billions of dollars as claimed by some.
He also called on those who oppose the Mon Desir project to “not be afraid” of the development and to stop “protesting needlessly” assuring they were welcome to sit and discuss their concerns with NIDCO.
The opening of the Golconda to Debe route allows motorists to travel to Debe from San Fernando and bypass such roads as the M2 Ring Road, reducing travel times from 30 to 45 minutes to about five minutes.
Yesterday’s function, which began under overcast skies, was lifted significantly by the entertainment of chutney king Raymond Ramnarine, who was joined on stage by Community Development Minister and Mayaro MP Winston “Gypsy” Peters, who, encouraged by Prime Minister, sang a duet of Michael Jackson’s “We are the World”.
And with members of the audience, including Persad-Bissessar singing along, Peters, a former calypso and extempo monarch, added these words to the song: “The highway now extend to Debe, and they must drive to arrive alive.” Peters also joined chutney singer, Brian Mohan for his Independence Day tribute, “Trinidad and Tobago” and again had the audience singing along.