Lease for ‘Linden Blue Lakes project’ rescinded by NICIL

- legal action filed

Sharon Benjamin-Fauconier

Even as President David Granger promised the principals of the Linden Blue Lakes project to look into their concerns regarding the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited’s (NICIL) role in holding back their mega green-energy project in Region 10, the company received a letter from NICIL informing them that they were rescinding the lease.

The company—Guyana Initiative Against Climate Change (GIACC) — has since filed legal action, and its Director, Sharon Benjamin-Fauconier, says that they will not be daunted.

“On the very day, May 31st (2019), that President [David] Granger replied to us saying that he was going to have the matter investigated, NICIL dispatched a letter to rescind the lease…,”  Benjamin-Fauconier told Stabroek News by phone yesterday, when contacted.

She said that her attorney, Jerome Khan, replied to NICIL last Monday and his correspondence was copied to “all of the individuals” concerned.

This newspaper tried contacting acting Head of NICIL, Colvin Heath-London, but calls to his phone went unanswered.

On the 12th of May, this newspaper reported that executives of the  proposed mega ‘green’ project at Linden were bemoaning what they believed was a deliberate delay by NICIL in notarising and filing their lease agreement, although they have been paying rent for over a year.

“I signed a lease with NICIL on August 4th, 2017, and their money comes out of my bank account every month and they provide me an invoice. We began running a number of intensive tests and measurements on the land, water and so on and when that was done, I wanted to begin my development late last year but it is the royal runaround to get the notarised lease,” US-based Guyanese, Benjamin-Fauconier had told this newspaper.

“We are told that there are other lands and all kinds of foolishness. We did not secure funding and ran tests for other lands. We did not go through a process of applying to NICIL and having to wait on approval from the Board, then okaying by Cabinet, for other lands. The area has the water and hills that are necessary and we want to start our project. This delay has held us up for too long,” she declared.

The site referred to is a 503-acre plot of land bordering the Kara Kara Creek in Linden, in the vicinity of the popular mined-out pond known locally as the Blue Lake. It comprises depleted bauxite lands once worked by foreign and later state-owned bauxite companies.

NICIL is the agency responsible for the lands. The lease with the company was signed under now deceased NICIL Head, Horace James.

Benjamin-Fauconier said that while some persons would have used parts of the now water-filled former bauxite pits to swim, they believe that the area could be transformed to produce clean energy, while they also want to set up a manufacturing entity which would produce and export fertilisers, among other products.

It was with that in mind, she said, that she applied to NICIL for the lease and was told that she had to submit a detailed proposal.

High technology

Business Strategist for GIACC, Everton Forris, who had also spoken via telephone from the US, gave a brief insight into the scope of works contained in the proposal. The company submitted their plan “describing its intentions for the site – the types of high technology and the technological skills it will bring. This includes the types of collaboration it would need through the University of Guyana and technical schools and the products planned to manufacture and export,” he said.

“GIACC plans to manufacture two types of fertilisers at the site, both using renewable energy and raw materials of air and water. Fertiliser `packing’ is the least of what GIACC plans to do. 503 acres of land is not needed to pack fertiliser but [is] a large acreage for solar cells, solar steam generation and other plants needed to manufacture fertiliser in quantity. In addition to this, solar energy acreage for fuel cell and electric buses and energy to generate hydrogen for cooking gas was factored into the land-lease,” he added, observing that fertiliser is a product that will “bring needed foreign exchange to Guyana.”

Last Monday, Mayor of Linden, Waneka Arrindell, and a team from the Linden Chamber of Industry, Commerce and Develop-ment (LCICD), visited the capital and met with officials of NICIL and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discuss the project.

The meeting was held despite NICIL’s rescission letter.

Arrindell told reporters at the Sophia headquarters of EPA that up to that date, the Council had not received a formal submission of the project proposal and this is a “big setback” but that the town was anxious about the project because of its potential job creation.

She had pointed out that the meeting was decided through LCICD that “they are going to make sure that the investor understands that the first step is to bring that project to us. When that project comes to us, of course it goes to a statutory meeting and that meeting is what allows it to be passed.”

The Mayor explained that the Council sits with representatives from each constituency and after a discussion, a vote will be taken on that project. Once the voting occurs, that project is sent to the EPA for an assessment of the environmental impacts on the resident, among other things, and for feedback to the council. She said that it is anticipated that about 500 new jobs will be created and noted that they are badly needed.

LCICD president Victor Fernandes, who was also part of the meeting, stressed that the private sector body welcomes business development. “Our sole concern is to see things happening in Linden, business having the enabling environment to grow and expand. We just don’t want to miss the opportunity of seeing a project of this nature just pass us by,” he said, before stressing that he believes it is a viable project. He noted that like the Town Council, LCICD is in support of the whole project given the outcomes and the benefits that it could bring.

Benjamin-Fauconier said that she learned of the meeting, and while she is grateful for the pitch from the group, she is awaiting a formal response from NICIL to her lawyer. “Our lawyer wrote NICIL and that response we now are waiting on,” she said.  

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