EPA Head surprised by Harmon’s remarks

Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Dr. Inderjit Ramdass says he is surprised by comments that Opposition parliamentarian Joe Harmon made in reaction to a letter sent by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment which sought to justify why a new impact study was not necessary for the airport’s expansion.

On Wednesday Harmon challenged Ramdass to stand on his scientific qualifications and defend his advice to the Ministry of Natural Resources that the US$138M airport expansion needed no new EIA. “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 on Wednesday.

Dr. Ramdass said that he will channel further comments on the matter through the Ministry that now oversees his agency.

Efforts to reach Harmon yesterday for a comment on the ongoing saga proved futile as he was said to be travelling overseas. Harmon had said he will continue to press the Government on this issue.

Government is relying on an Environmental Impact Assessment finalised in 2002 for an airport development project that was vastly different in scope from the Chinese funded expansion being proposed and is hoping to compensate for the changes that would have occurred over those years through an environment and social management plan.

The Government is going ahead with the expansion which will see the construction of a new terminal building with eight air-bridges and a lengthened runway. The cost of the expansion is in the order of US$138 million.

The documents needed for the ESMP are 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.

However, Dr. Ramdass said that these documents are still to be submitted. “These six documents would be the update we need for the [old] EIA,” he said. “They would take two to three months to review and [if necessary] approve,” he said. “But we are still awaiting these.”

Stabroek News was given a brief opportunity to look at the document yesterday and could not take a copy away from the EPA.

The brief look at the document revealed that the project in 2002 had as its focus lighting for the runway, improvement to the surface of the runway, and sewerage plant and drainage improvements among other improvements such as repairs to the roof, the acquisition of new vehicles for the airport and computer systems. The project was part of the IDB funded Airport Reform Programme.

The project according to the document was the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Improvement Programme funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The EIA was prepared by Law Engineering and Environmental Services of Miami, Florida, USA. It is yet unclear whether this project was similar in scale to what is being conceived of under the Chinese project.

In the EIA the issue of squatting featured prominently and it said that squatters posed a danger to the operations of the airport because of the livestock they owned. Further, the EIA said too that the squatters presented a negative image which was not in keeping with the one that Government wanted to present to visitors to Guyana.

The EIA said that the Guyana Defence Force ammunition dump was a security issue since persons squatted in the area. Other issues that came up in the EIA are related to soil erosion and risks of road dangers posed to the squatters.

The EIA recognised that the squatters around the airport benefited from economic activity that the airport allows for their income.

It said too that any relocation without the implementation of a plan for the use of the land within the airport is not likely to be successful as people will return or new squatters will move in, since the economic imperative still exists.

The EIA recommended that a plan of action be drawn up for squatters.

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