– says it will undo damage, restore site
Having visited the area and conducted its investigation, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) yesterday ordered BK International to cease all quarry operations in the Barakara Falls area, halting plans by the company to blast the falls site.
BK International Public Relations Representative Kit Nascimento confirmed the cease order saying last night that the sustained protest from Wonderland Tours was likely responsible for the move. He said the company has agreed to restore the area by landscaping it; basically undoing the damage which has been done to the environment.
Nascimento said too that BK International has agreed to postpone all activities in the Barakara area given the order and he emphasized that the pathway and the environs at the falls would be restored completely. The company had commenced clearing the area at the falls in preparation for quarry operations; impeding access to the area and wiping out the trail to the falls. Last week the falls stood amid a sea of graded down vegetation and thick mud.
Stabroek News was reliably informed that a team from the commission went in the area over the weekend and later submitted a report, which guided the subsequent actions of the GGMC. Previously, Commissioner William Woolford had indicated that an investigation would be conducted based on questions which this newspaper had submitted.
Sources close to the issue disclosed yesterday that GGMC was concerned over the fact that BK International had breached an agreement it signed with the commission following an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which was conducted back in 2005.
In the assessment, a section of which was shown to this newspaper, it was stated that the project area where BK International had signalled an intention to operate, was previously utilized for quarry activities in the 1960s but on a rudimentary scale. Subsequent to this, the area was not utilized for any specific purpose and was occupied by a number of settlers who did subsistence farming and small-scale logging in the wider area.
The project area was stated as occupying approximately 1,200 acres and was reported to have been recently surveyed at the time with lines cut to establish boundaries. The EIA report said the site had previously been worked in the 1960s for aggregate but not extensively and with very basic tools (pick axe and wheel barrows). “The project area falls within a general jurisdiction for quarrying activities as noted by the names of the respective sites within the project area (Arimai Quarry, Baracara Quarry, Palmer’s Point quarry) and the existing adjacent quarry operation of Mazaruni Granite Products Limited. Nevertheless there is no established Zoning Plan which identifies these areas as quarry locations except for general descriptions by studies and reports within the GGMC,” the report stated.
It continued that since the discontinuing of tourism operations by Whitewater Adventures and the tourism operations at Baracara Island, there had not been much utilization of the falls. However, it noted that the mini rapid is an important natural asset offering a scenic and relaxing natural setting which “would be protected and maintained”.
Further, the report mentioned that the existing trail from the river’s edge to Barakara Rapid; the falls itself and the immediate watershed (1.6 km radius) would be protected from development activity. “This site represents an important tourist attraction and place of solace and relaxation for residents, locals and visitors to the area,” the report said. It also recommended that Linden Quarries, which is owned by BK International, in addition to securing the area from development “undertake intervention to enhance the site through clearing and maintenance of the trail, rehabilitation of footbridges, installation of signs, and perhaps the construction of small benabs around the vicinity of the rapid.
“In this regard the Guyana Tourism Authority would be engaged to assist through technical expertise intervention as well as to develop systems and guidelines to permit access to the site within the context that the site is located in the project area where access will need to be monitored.”
In the wake of reports that its quarry operations in the Mazaruni River were posing a serious threat to the falls, BK International claimed responsibility for the destruction on Friday last, saying it was forced to expand quarry operations in the area to meet the demands of the country’s building needs, which it argued currently exceed supply.
The company also said it was operating in the national interest since it was “a development need” and announced that it would develop another area in the Mazaruni River close to its quarry operations to serve as a tourist attraction site.
But Alisha Ousman of Wonderland Tours challenged BK International saying the company was not authorized to conduct quarry operations at the site. Ousman openly criticized BK International for wrecking the environment in the name of money and said that it is the country which ultimately suffers. She had previously spoken out against the company’s operations in the area and called for an end to the destruction while at the same time drawing attention to the issue.