Latest update March 23rd, 2023 12:59 AM
Mar 28, 2022 News
Kaieteur News – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) breached the EPA Act of 1996 by glossing over the design requirement, as mandated in Section 11 (1) (i), when it accepted an application from the Ministry of Public Works (MoPW) for the construction of the new Demerara River Bridge that lacked key details of the project.
According to Section 11 (1) of the Act, “A developer of any project listed in the Fourth Schedule, or any other project which may significantly affect the environment, shall apply to the Agency for an environmental permit and shall submit with such application the fee prescribed and a summary of the project including information on- (i) the site, design and size of the project; (ii) possible effects on the environment; (iii) the duration of the project; (iv) a non-technical explanation of the project.”
Section 11 (2) goes on to explain, “Where it is not clear whether a project will significantly affect the environment, the developer shall submit to the Agency a summary of the project which shall contain the information as required by subsection (1) and the Agency shall within a reasonable period publish in at least one daily newspaper a decision with reasons as to whether the project- (a) will not significantly affect the environment, and therefore exempt from the requirement for an environmental impact assessment; or (b) may significantly affect the environment and will require an environmental impact assessment.”
The EPA has waived the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirement for the new bridge, but the law is clear that the developer is still expected to submit a Summary of the project which should contain the design and other key features of the project. However, in the Project Summary for the new Demerara River Bridge, published by the EPA on its website, these details are nowhere to be found.
Instead, the document gaves a brief history of the old structure and its usefulness to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It also highlighted in the second paragraph that the new bridge will go upstream and near to the present Demerara Harbour Bridge, across the Demerara River from Nandy Park to La Grange and that the proposed fixed four-lane structure will have a vertical clearance over the channel of approximately 50m above the maximum tide level.
Even though environmentalists hold the view that the project can have significant impacts on both marine and human life, the EPA concluded that an EIA would not be required for the project. Notably, this newspaper could not find any reasons listed for the decision to waive the EIA requirement, although the EPA Act also states that reasons for the regulator’s approval or rejection of a project must be published.
According to Section 12 (2), “The Agency shall publish its decision and the grounds on which it is made.” The design of the new structure has been at the center of debates this past week with former Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson criticizing tomorrow’s public consultation, as the blueprint on the bridge is yet to be announced, which he says will determine potential impacts of the construction.
In a recent interview with Kaieteur News, Patterson said a design of the structure would determine the noise, traffic and other key impacts the project will have on nearby residents. To this end, he concluded that a design must be submitted first for one to effectively measure or quantify the impacts residents can possibly brace for.
The former Minister of Public Infrastructure is adamant that the design of the new crossing would determine where connector roads would be built or developed, the level of pollution, in terms of dust and noise and others. Environmentalist, Simone Mangal-Joly also highlighted her concerns on the absence of key details regarding the project as well.
In a letter to the Executive Director of the EPA, Mr. Kemraj Parsram on March 26, Mangal-Joly contended that the Ministry of Public Works’ application for the construction of the new bridge lacks basic information on the proposed development.
Mangal-Joly was keen to note that no proposed design was attached, while the application also fails to provide information on the scale, geographic placement, and relative layout of infrastructure, access roads to which the application refers, drainage systems that would have to be modified as stated in the application, or properties in the right of way that would have to be demolished.
Additionally, she also brought to the attention of Parsram that information on the locations, sequencing, and duration of proposed construction activities, including assembling works required for the bridge, access roads, the extent and location of dredging of the Demerara River, pile driving, or demolition works to which the application refers, was also not listed.
To this end, she told the Executive Director of the EPA that, “It would be unfair to hold such a hearing without prior disclosure of the relevant information upon which the EPA relied in making its decision to waive an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), especially as this basic information ought to have been part of the application for an environmental permit and formed part of the Public Register since November 19, 2021, and the EPA’s stamped date of receipt of the application.”
In February, Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo disclosed that negotiations with China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd. were terminated, as the cost of financing was too high. The company had submitted the lowest bid of US$256,638,289 to the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), but currently government is in talks with the company that will be constructing the Amaila Falls Hydropower plant, to build the new Demerara River Bridge.
The firms are: China Railway Construction Corporation International, China Railway Caribbean Company Limited and China Railway Engineering Bureau Group Company Limited submitted three financial proposals of US$260,852,464, US$260,852,464 and US$300,000,000. Although it has been just close to two months since the announcement, the Irfaan Ali-led administration has not made a pronouncement on whether the proposal by the new company has been approved. It was in October of last year that bids were received from contractors for the design, construction and financing of the proposed four-lane structure. Even though government said the contractors would be financing the project, in its 2022 Budget some $21.1B was allocated for the construction of the new bridge.
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