La Brea residents protest
By LAUREL V WILLIAMS Wednesday, January 1 2014
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Stuck in oil: Aviann Rankin lifts a piece of wood to show oil still around a house along Coffee Beach, La Brea yesterday. ...
ANGRY residents of La Brea, who are affected by an oil spill, yesterday blocked the roadway in a placard demonstration which prevented Petrotrin workers as well as a foreign team from carrying out clean-up work at Coffee Beach.
The residents complained they are fed up with promises by State-owned Petrotrin and, on Monday night, they came to an agreement to protest.
From as early as 5.30 am yesterday, residents placed logs and household items at three points along Queen Street where they gathered with placards to voice their concerns. The residents were however warned not to light any fires because of the potential danger posed by heavy oil on the nearby beach.
When Newsday arrived at Queen Street which leads to Coffee beach, approximately 15 residents were standing in the roadway with placards.
Virgil Gilbert, 33, an auto technician, said yesterday marked the 15th day since the oil spill.
“I work out there and everyday there is a new set of oil coming up. The only people we allowed to pass were the people distributing the food because we cannot light our stoves to cook and also the ambulance people. Everyone else was not able to come on the street unless they are residents,” Gilbert said he accused Petrotrin of not being in control of the clean-up process as well as not properly addressing the issues faced by residents such as compensation, health, relocation and damage to the environment. Even the mangrove, Gilbert said, is in a mess. He said he has not been able to work at his home since the spill.
“Everyday people are getting sick. People want to be compensated and evacuated. They had agreed to put us in the community centre but the centre, is very small and cannot hold everybody. There is only one toilet and bath facility. We have to make a dollar too and nobody came to talk to us about compensation...If we don’t get our demands, it would be like this everyday,” Gilbert said.
Residents described the protest as phase one saying phase two would be communicating with lawyers who have already pledged their willingness to fight for them.
“The spill ruined everything and we did not ask for this. We did not ask for oil on our doorstep. This street here is like a community, this is one family. Trinis like their bellies so for the holidays, we had no black cake, no turkey, no ham, no nothing. It’s just oil,” Gilbert said.
Another Mellissa Joseph, 27, told Newsday Petrotrin officials are no longer allowing sick persons to seek medical attention at the company’s facilities, which she said was unfair to residents. “An ambulance driver told us that they are not taking us to the doctor’s office in Brighton because it is a private facility,” Joseph said. Denecia Gilbert, 24, said her two year-old daughter Romelia Boodoo had discolouration to the back of her throat and a doctor confirmed it was as a direct result of the fumes inhaled.
“The doctor from Petrotrin gave me Panadol syrup, some antibiotics and something else to use. Those things are not doing anything to help her,” Gilbert said.
However at Point Sable clean-up continued as workers were trying to contain the spill. Residents at this location also complained of a lack of communication with Petrotrin and hoped the problem is resolved as soon as possible.
At the Brighton Sports Club affected residents crowded the facility as they noisily tried to get their concerns across to Petrotrin’s communications officer, George Commissiong, and Stedman Cadogan, of the Health and Safety Department. Referring to the protest at Queen Street, Commissiong noted the company was aware of the residents’ concerns as well as their intentions to protest if the concerns were not addressed. He did not foresee a major impact on the clean-up operations. “It has perhaps a bigger impact on the relationship between the company and the residents. I do not see it as affecting the clean-up operations significantly. However, I would need to confirm that as I have not yet been at the operation’s site for the day,” Commissiong said.
On the issues of compensation and evacuation, he explained Petrotrin and by extension Government would address them. “Those decisions were made elsewhere. A number of issues are mixed up there, health, communication and so on, some of which need unravelling. I cannot speak about compensation,” Commissiong said.
He noted the meeting with residents showed the company was trying to communicate with them. Commissiong also promised to visit the persons living near Coffee Beach and environs.
Commissiong denied the residents’ claim that the spill was not properly contained saying to the best of his knowledge, the last oil leak was at Pointe-a-Pierre.
“I do not anticipate that that would have any impact on what is taking place here. I am not an operation’s person so I do not want to speculate on how long it is going to take to clean-up and that sort of thing. I know we have quite a bit of equipment and manpower on the sites. I know the specialists that came in are in agreement with the strategies that Petrotrin is utilising to treat with the spill,” Commissiong said.
Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, when contacted on the accommodation concerns of affected residents, told Newsday the inter-ministerial committee-led by Environment Minister Ganga Singh was conducting an assessment with Petrotrin and would make a request to the Housing Ministry. “I expect in a few days they should be in a position to indicate to us their most serious cases and then we would see what is available in our housing stock to offer those residents.
We are looking at La Brea itself where we have a couple of houses available,” Moonilal said. “Apart from that we have not ruled out private guest houses for persons who are in emergency need. We can also ensure short-term leases of private guest houses in the area.”
Acting Prime Minister Errol Mc Leod yesterday reminded that the inter-ministerial committee is “looking into all the concerns including the social concerns of affected residents in La Brea and that the committee...is working assiduously to settle all the concerns in the shortest time possible.”