Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
…deemed public hearing a failure as some of their questions were not answered
…EPA says project solid, needs no EIA
By Lisa Hamilton
Several residents of Coverden on the East Bank of Demerara (EBD) have been left frustrated and without answers after a public hearing of the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB), meant to provide clarity on the planned construction of a Waste Treatment Facility in their community, did not answer their burning questions.
The meeting was held on Monday at the Soesdyke/Huist’ Coverden Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) at 16:00 hours and simultaneously on Zoom, with an attendance of about 60 participants.
It was meant to delve into appeals submitted against the plans of Global Oil Environmental Service (GOES) to construct and operate the Waste Treatment Facility. The facility would serve to transfer, store, treat and dispose of Exploration and Production (E&P) Oil and Gas waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made the decision that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project is not required.
Over the period given for persons to raise concerns or objections, several persons did so with primary concerns such as why the community of some 300 persons was selected; how such a facility would affect them directly or indirectly; and what benefits are to be derived.
In accordance with Section 18(3) of the Environmental Protection Act, Cap. 20:05, Laws of Guyana, the EAB shall conduct public hearings into all appeals submitted against the EPA’s decision not to require an EIA for a specific project. Such public hearings must involve representations from the appellants, the developer and other key stakeholders.
BETTER WAS EXPECTED
However, when the meeting began and appellants were asked to make a formal presentation, they complained that the EPA had not made them aware that such would be needed, even as they were also made aware of the public hearing “last minute”.
Coverden resident, Penelope Howell, in an email to the EAB shared with the media had complained: “We have concluded that your agency is deliberately trying to disenfranchise us with this late and ‘sudden’ announcement.”
She disclosed a message sent to her by the EPA regarding the meeting which stated: “Please note the technicians are working on a link, however, the internet at the venue is very weak, so they are doing some testing and once it works, the link will be shared, alternatively, the appellants will have there to share their concerns to the EAB.”
The internet connection at the area indeed proved to be very poor as for a large portion of the beginning of the meeting, Zoom participants had trouble hearing. Other minor technical difficulties continued throughout.
BE CLEAR ON THE NEGATIVES
In initial presentations, representatives from GOES said that the company will do everything in its power to maintain a ‘green’ footprint and to ensure that the project is a direct benefit for Guyana, with special emphasis on Coverden. The representative spoke to job creation, business creation and other benefits.
This was followed by the request for appellants to make formal presentations. Howell, who was overseas at the time, immediately raised concerns about the poor connection which prevented persons from hearing, the late notice that persons would have to make detailed presentations and the limited time allotted for these presentations.
“Based on what you have said your mind has already been made up because you’re saying –based on the introduction of what I just heard — that you are going to make a decision after this 2-hour meeting,” Howell said.
“The way it is is as if you’re not taking our concerns seriously….let us be fair on both sides. You’re giving me ten minutes to make a presentation and you’re now telling me that after letters were written.”
Nonetheless, some of the questions raised by Howell related to the names of the gas and chemical waste proposed to be stored at the facility; the potential impact on plant and animal life in the case of spills or leakage; the means by which the waste will be transported; measures catering to an accident during transport; and the proposed core time of transport.
She also questioned the intended percentage increase in heavy equipment operating in the area; the disposal options for the waste; the toxicity level of the chemicals and gas waste; whether the EPA conducted a study to evaluate the management of the gas and chemical waste; the potential impact of leakage or spills into the waterways; measures to deal with hightide; monitoring mechanisms and the carbon footprint of GOES.
Howell put forward: “All of that and you have already said that it won’t’ significantly affect us. So, if we come down with any kind of diseases, I assume that you have already concluded that it is not significant. Then what are we gaining?”
In response, a representative of the EBA clarified that the decision on the construction of the Waste Treatment Facility would not be made on the same day and that concerns were merely being gathered. The representative also made clear that there is a distinction between the EPA and the EBA.
WHAT’S THE EPA’s CAPACITY?
Meanwhile, concerns were also raised by informal appellant, Stacey Forrester. She primarily wanted to know why, out of all other locations, Coverden was chosen and what are the possible benefits.
“Why is the EPA…taking this so lightly to have such a major plant in a neighbourhood or a community that is densely populated? Not only that but that is close in proximity to the Demerara River which is widely used by many Guyanese? It’s not only that the people at Coverden will be affected but anyone who uses the Demerara River will be affected should there be a problem,” she said.
However, according to Odessa Duncan, Senior Environmental Officer of the EPA, the Authority had examined 11 environmental areas regarding the project and found that it scored well enough in all areas not to require an EIA. The areas included air quality, noise and radiation, service water quality, soil quality, waste management, biodiversity, land stability, social impact and more.
But Forrester, in turn, questioned the EPA’s capacity. “From what I’m reading and my research of the EPA in Guyana, it’s already saying that you guys are short-staffed. You guys don’t have the equipment and the personnel to ensure that things are safe in Guyana…what is the EPA doing on their behalf to ensure that what this company is saying is authentic?” she questioned.
During the programme, there were also persons who commended GOES for the project noting that they were looking forward to the spring-off benefits that would come from the project.
“From my review, as a citizen not knowing all about the business, I personally think it could be a business that brings employment, brings education. And from my review [this would be] the only processing plant in Georgetown at this time. So, if you ask me my personal comment, I would personally commend you,” said a resident speaking from the NDC location.
Still, the number of residents making remarks provided more concerns than commendation. The meeting for those participating on Zoom ended abruptly with several persons complaining that their questions were not answered.
“I need to have something clarified. Several questions have been raised and I have not heard any response. I would like to know what happens now. When will these questions be answered? I assumed this was the forum to answer questions. When will these questions be answered, sir? One of the representatives of the developers is there, he has not said to us what are the other plans,” interjected one resident as the persons on the ground began wrapping up the hearing.
Residents tuning in via Zoom were then no longer communicated with and the Zoom meeting was subsequently ended after several minutes of dead air.
The Waste Treatment Facility project is set to be located at Block ‘X’ TE Huiste, Block I, ‘T’ Hustle Coverden, East Bank Demerara. Persons with concerns have also been asked to submit these in writing to the EBA.