BK International yesterday claimed responsibility for the destruction at Barakara Falls, saying it is forced to expand quarry operations in the area to meet the demands of the country’s building needs, which it argued currently exceed supply.
BK International supplies some 60% of the building materials in Guyana and according to its Managing Director Brian Tiwari, this figure no longer holds up. He said there is need for expanded operations and since the company is licenced to operate in the Mazaruni River area, it will go ahead with plans to conduct quarry operations there, including in the Barakara Falls area.
In fact, work has already commenced at the falls and access to the area has been severely impeded. The trail to the falls that previously existed is no more; it has been replaced by a thick mud track which facilitates the current operations there. The falls stand amid a sea of graded down vegetation and thick mud.
BK International announced yesterday that it will develop another area in the Mazaruni River close to its quarry operations to serve as a tourist attraction site. The site, which was previously the ‘Teperu Hydro,’ has a micro-hydro falls and Tiwari said it is to be fully developed into a major tourist destination complete with amenities and added luxuries which the company has planned. The new site was revealed to reporters yesterday during a tour of the area which the company sponsored. It would be another six months before the site begins to take shape.
Tiwari spoke briefly on reports that his company is damaging the environment by wiping out Barakara Falls, which is situated in an existing quarry area, but has been a tourist attraction for some 13 years. He said the Barakara Falls area was “a mess,” arguing it was poorly maintained by the operators who regularly fielded tours there for years. He contended that the persons who are now fighting to save the falls never “built as much as a bridge there or planted a tree” but are somehow now showing interest.
He said his company invested a significant amount of money to conduct a study in the area before deciding on where to expand its operations; the study took five years. Tiwari said the relevant authorities were aware and involved in the study in addition to residents in the area, and “no one objected to its findings.”
The findings, he explained, pointed to the Barakara area where an existing quarry is. “We informed everyone what we were doing. There was nothing to hide,” Tiwari added.
Tiwari said the Mazaruni area has “thousands of falls” which tour operators can easily adopt and field tours to. He said Barakara was a man-made falls “which emerged from quarry operations,” declaring that many other such structures are likely spread across the area because of the existing quarry operations dating back decades.
He stressed there were no objections when the company was conducting its study and argued that his company is not in the business of operating irresponsibly.
Tiwari explained what he meant by operating responsibly, saying that BK International has been replanting trees in the Mazaruni area for years since it started conducting operations there. He pointed to a plot of pines in the area yesterday, which he said was replanted some time ago and is now flourishing. “Now that we are ready to do our work people are suddenly claiming this falls, owning it and saying we cannot work. We have permission to do our work,” he added.
The permission he referred to is said to have come from the Guyana Geology and Mines (GGMC) to conduct quarry operations in the area and to expand. BK International is also reporting that its operations are green lighted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But the company continues to face rigid criticism over its operations in the Mazaruni River from tour operators who argue that persistent environmental damage will destroy the entire Mazaruni area.
BK International insists its operations are properly sanctioned and in the “interest of national development.” The company questioned yesterday whether it should abandon the goal of supplying critical building material to the country because of a small man-made falls.
BK’s public relations representative Kit Nascimento posed the question, saying to reporters yesterday that BK International is working in the interest of the country “not against it.”
Nascimento argued that many historical sites had been destroyed at Linden in the pursuit of bauxite mining. He said BK International has operated differently. He said the company replants whenever it blasts, adding that the end to Barakara Falls does not translate into “the end.” Nascimento said BK International is going to develop an area which will attract tourist while at the same time offering them the comforts of an exclusive get-away spot, and the site would be open to all Guyanese free of cost.
Tour operator Alisha Ousman, who operates Wonderland Tours, turned up on the media sponsored tour yesterday to vent her frustrations with what is happening in the area.
She criticised BK International for wrecking the environment in the name of money and said that it is the country which ultimately suffers. Ousman had previously spoken out against the company’s operations in the area and called for an end to the destruction. She vowed yesterday to take the fight to an international level. “No one in the country will help me fight,” she said.