St. Vincent and the Grenadines needs the quarry in Richmond, work on which began before farmers, who will be uprooted as a result of the crushing plant, were notified.
“The matter of the quarry — let me say upfront that we absolutely need the quarry for the purposes of the construction industry, for the state and for the private sector,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on Friday on his party’s radio station.
“We need for roads, we need for buildings, we need all kinds of physical infrastructure projects,” he said.
He was speaking one day after Saboto Caesar, minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labour as well as North Leeward MP, Carlos James, who holds ministerial responsibility for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Sustainable Development and Culture, met with residents for a public information session.
The session was held almost a week after tractors belonging to Rayneau Gajadhar, a St. Lucian businessman began ploughing into the headland between Fitz Hughes and Richmond.
The government has leased 58.8 acres of land to the company for 30 years, for quarrying.
The prime minister said that the quarry is needed as St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been having a shortage of quarry material for construction.
“You know that had been one of the bottlenecks… And when we have been trying to do it elsewhere — you remember the opposition which Julian met, which the government met when we wanted to do one above Gibson Corner,” he said, referring to then-Minister of Works, Senator Julian Francis, who is now minister of Urban Development, Energy, Airports, Seaports, Grenadines Affairs and Local Government
“And persons all the way down to Montrose — I mean, I know some persons who are normally very rational and reasonable persons, I talked to a few of them and said, ‘Listen, these are the mitigation measures which the professionals say they will put in place and going to be okay,’” Gonsalves said referring to objection to a quarry being placed in Gibson Corner.
“They say we don’t want to hear nothing like that. ‘We don’t want it there.’ And we continued to search.”
Gonsalves said that the quarry in Richmond “is not [a] yesterday thing…
“There was very early in our administration a group of investors out of the French West Indies — Martinique or Guadeloupe and they came and all the work was done including the environmental, social and impact assessment. So, there was one before the planning board all the time.”
He said that what was going to be done then is the same as what the St. Lucian investor is doing now.
“And I’ve been advised 12 farmers are going to be affected. Now, let me hasten to say this. The interplay between the officials in the Ministry of Transport and Works and also Julian’s own ministry now and the Ministry of Agriculture, that interplay could have been far better, including also with the involvement of Lands and Surveys,” the prime minister said.
“In other words, there should have been on the issue, on this round — because I was advised that there was discussion earlier — long ago since in our time when the project originally was conceived.
“But on this round, when this one is imminent, it should have been done before.”
The public information session Thursday evening, which the prime minister referred to as a “consultation”, was attended by the chief surveyor, who did not speak at the meeting and left before it ended.
Gonsalves noted that there was a separate meeting with farmers Thursday morning.
“I understand you have about 12 farmers — good farmers, many of them. Now, they have been occupying the lands owned by the state because, as I understand it, those lands went into their possession since the days of the Agricultural Development Corporation and then a new entity, the Agricultural Reform Development Programme, that particular programme they remained there but they never had title, I understand.
“But you still have to respect the fact that the state put them into possession and they have crops there. And always, of course, you’re going to get compensation for your crops. I don’t know what is the outcome of yesterday’s meeting so if I’m talking anything out of turn, forgive me.”
Last week Monday, Jan. 31, Cuthbert “Mr. Cool” James, whose family has been farming on a five-acre plot for two decades under a leasehold agreement, told iWitness News that they had approached the government to purchase the plot.
James told iWitness News that the government had said that the lands were earmarked for housing and other purposes.