Harmon to press EPA on 12-year-old airport impact study

A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Joe Harmon says that the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should defend his advice to the Ministry of the Environment that a new impact assessment is not needed for the massive expansion works at Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri.

Speaking to Stabroek New last evening, Harmon, also a Member of Parliament, said that he was dismayed to have received a response from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment after he had written Executive Director of the EPA Dr. Inderjit Ramdass seeking an explanation in his capacity as a technical person.

Joe Harmon

“My letter was addressed to the EPA. Dr. Ramdass chose not to respond to me but to have the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry answer me. I wrote him to ask whether he was prepared to back that decision. If Dr. Ramdass is incapable of standing behind his advice he should be removed from that position. I expected a response from the EPA on what advice he gave.

He is a scientist and he must stand on his qualification and be judged on it,” said Harmon.

The Ministry in the letter to Harmon said that an environmental and social management plan is required for the project instead of a full-fledged environmental impact assessment.

The ESMP requires the submission to, and approval by the EPA of an Emergency Response Plan, a Traffic Management Plan, a Construction Management Plan, a Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Plan, technical details of a Sewerage Treatment Plan and a Relocation and Compensatory Plan for all stakeholders affected by the project.

“I am going to ask the EPA whether the elements required for the environmental and social management plan have been submitted to the EPA and if so whether they have been approved,” Harmon said.

He called again for there to be public consultation and for all the people of the area to have a say in the proposed development and how it will affect their lives.

Harmon believes that the urgency with which the Government chose to handle the US$138M airport contract deal has to do with the Chinese company offering financing to do various projects in the region and in this country. He said that because of this urgency, concerns about environmental and social impacts have been given a lesser focus.

Speaking on the issue, aviation company owner Gerry Gouveia said that he does not see why it is that an EIA done for the Timehri Airport in 2000 cannot be relevant now. He said that what he would have a difficulty with is if it was said that there must be no study done of the potential impacts of any expansion.

Dr. Ramdass told Stabroek News yesterday that he has sent his comments to Minister Persaud in response to questions from this newspaper as to why it was that the EPA was using a 12-year-old impact study to inform a present project.

Experts in the aviation sector say that it is unsuitable to use such a dated study to make a decision on whether such a major development could have negative environmental and social impacts.

Dr. Ramdass said that it is the policy of the EPA to send all its communications to the press through the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment or through letters in the press. However, up to press time, Stabroek News did not receive those comments.

This newspaper had asked of the Minister what justified the decision to have an ESMP instead of an EIA and on the suitability of the 2000 ESIA for the Chinese-funded expansion project.

Dr. Ramdass said that the EIA for the project in 2000 will be available today since it had been sent to be photocopied and was not available at the time that this newspaper visited his office yesterday afternoon. He said that it was not available on the agency’s website, as this newspaper had observed some days now.

A source in the aviation industry said that what the Ministry had to be referring to in its letter was a project called the Air Transport Sector Reform Project and it was meant to be a complete upgrade of the aviation sector, looking at the Timehri International Airport, so named at the time, the Ogle Airport and various airstrips across the country.

Another person who was working on Government projects around 2000 said he is not sure whether an EIA was done for this project but said that the Government may want to consider upgrading the EIA taking into account the changes that would have occurred from the time it was first done to now.

He is of the belief that while the EIA was done 12 years ago it is possible to update it rather than go through the process of doing a totally new one.

The Ministry of Natural Resources said in its letter to Harmon that a site inspection was conducted and based on findings, it was determined that an environmental and social management plan was required for the proposed extension. It said that the decision to execute an Environmental and Social Management Plan (ESMP) was made on the basis that an EIA had been previously conducted for the Airport Improvement Project and submitted on August 29, 2000.

In the letter the Permanent Secretary said too that the potential environmental impacts associated with the project are similar to those previously addressed in the 2000 EIA and noted that the identified impacts can be assessed and effectively mitigated by an Environmental Manage-ment Plan for the project.

It said members of the public submitted no comments during the mandated 30-day period during which they could submit their concerns or objections in writing. He said that a notice had been published on December 12, 2011.

Contacted yesterday, Tourism Minister Irfaan Ali, one of the panellists on the NCN debate on Sunday which featured the airport expansion, said in the coming days persons will be contacting the residents of the area on arrangements for their relocation.

When asked about the need for an EIA he said that this is the Ministry of Natural Resources’ remit and he could not comment on this.

When Stabroek News contacted Minister Persaud he said he was travelling and could not respond to queries at that time.

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