A school principal who says his was the single vote by which Carlos James was elected MP for North Leeward in 2020 is accusing the government of flouting its own rules in granting permission for a quarry at Richmond.
“The project is unlawful by virtue of the fact it did not go through due process. The project cannot stand. There’s no basis for it. And we have to be aggrieved about it,” Adonis Charles, told the community meeting held by the opposition New Democratic Party in his village.
The Fitz Hughes resident, on Friday, urged listeners to put politics aside, saying “none of the guys who stand to benefit” from the quarry live in Fitz Hughes.
“Our minister doesn’t even live in North Leeward,” Charles said. “We have nothing personal against these guys, but wrong is wrong…
“We have to shut down the project,” he further stated and led a chant of “Stop the quarry! Save our lives!”
“Every morning I get up and look over there, I vex. When I jog to Richmond Bay, which you know I do often, and I see round there, I vex,” he said, referring to the mountain that has been scoured by heavy machines.
Charles is chair of and spoke on behalf of the North Leeward Heritage Preservation Front, a group whose members include Clem Derrick, Linden Stephen, Kenrick Pierre, Tari Cadogan, Andrew Adams, and Kenrick Pierre.
He urged residents to pay attention to the membership of the group, a suggestion that some members of the group are opposed to the quarry, despite their support for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP).
Charles spoke of the draft National Physical Development Plan for SVG 2021- 2041, adding that the final version is unlikely to differ significantly.
“The quarry has broken every single rule there is concerning the construction and the way we should go about such a project; every single rule was broken by the government.”
He said that on the issue of resource extraction, the document details certain considerations before any mineral of any sort is removed from the soil.
Charles emphasised that the government produced the document.
“The best minds did this. And what the conservation plan is saying is, ‘appropriate studies demonstrating the sustainability benefits of the proposal will be required as part of the development application process’.
“I’m quoting from the document; it is a government document, albeit a draft. Nothing much is going to change. These are fundamental guidelines.”
The ULP administration has leased 59 acres of lands to a St. Lucian company to operate a stone quarry for 30 years on the headland between Fitz Hughes and Richmond.
Rayneau Construction and Industrial Company will pay the government lease of EC$12,000 annually and EC$2 on each tonne of rock that is mined.
While the requisite documents were published in the press, as required by law, many residents became aware of the quarry after the company’s bulldozers began ploughing through farms on Jan. 29.
The government has apologised for not consulting with and informing the community, but has defended the quarry, saying that it is urgently needed amidst plans to spend some EC$500 million on capital projects over the next three years.
The government and Rayneau Gajadhar, manager of the mining company, have attempted to suggest that “export” meant moving aggregates from one part of St. Vincent to the other, and not that 99% of the aggregates would be sent overseas, as Gajadhar told iWitness News on Jan. 29.
However, residents of North Leeward and other stakeholders have pointed to the absence of an environmental and social impact study done for the specific site and the likely health impacts of the quarry operation, even as important agricultural lands would be destroyed.
“I am not a politician and I’m not here to promote one or the other political party,” Charles told the community meeting, held in an NDP stronghold.
“The people who were supposed to talk to us did not come. So, when the New Democratic Party decided that they will be here, we thought it would be a good opportunity to make a short presentation,” he said on behalf of his group.
Charles said he became aware of the quarry after seeing the iWitness News report on it in February.
“When I heard … that this ridiculous project is about to go down, I was hurt, I was disturbed, I was disappointed. You know why? If I did not vote for Carlos in the last election he couldn’t win. My vote was the winning vote,” he said without elaborating.
“Brethren, listen to me, this is a serious matter. And when you see somebody like me come on a platform like this and speak out, they must understand the seriousness of the invasion of our democratic rights in this country.
“Let me say straight, let me say this, we object to the contemptuous manner in which the quarry is being conducted.
“We want to let the government know that we, in Fitz Hughes, are real human beings with real feelings. We are not made from stone; we are flesh and blood…”
He said that the draft plan says whatever project a government is going to undertake, it must not have an unacceptable impact on adjacent lands.
He said that the dust will affect farming by preventing plants from photosynthesising.
“So, all those of us who are planting over here in Fitz Hughes, even as far as Golden Grove and over Chateau, your produce, your yield will be minimal, because the plants are struggling to attract sunlight,” Charles said.
“And their document is saying that no project should damage people’s crops or lands,” adding that the document also says that all necessary and adequate measures to reduce, avoid and mitigate such impacts are implemented before commencing the project.
“So, you do your study, you do your baseline study. The baseline study deals with finding out what kinds of plants and species you have there; [determine] those protected under the Forestry Act and so on, before you cut one blade of grass.
“None of that was done. And then you disrespected us by not telling us, you admitted you disrespected us and then further disrespected the disrespect by saying it’s an error.”
He said an error is something wrongfully done unintentionally.
“How can you say this is an error when you know what you are about in the first case?”
The draft development plan states that no quarry or any project of a similar nature should be located on sandy beaches or coastal ecosystems, Charles said.
“Look out there,” he said, referring to the sandy beach near the quarry.”
Charles said that rather than encouraging farming through agricultural inputs and marketing, the government has taken “prime agricultural land and put it into an environmental quagmire.
“And when you are done, you talk about food security and reducing food import bill.”
He noted that in his book “The Making of the Comrade”, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said his government has “delivered good governance, a framework for participatory democracy grounded in universal democratic values and individual liberty, liberal democratic constitutional rule, an alive constitutionalism, responsible and responsive government”.
“Where is this reflected in that project? Where? Where? The quarry is wrong on so many levels.”
He said that The Vincentian newspaper of Nov. 5, published an application by Rayneau construction and Industrial Company for the construction of a jetty at Richmond.
On Nov. 18, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Conservation Fund wrote a letter of objection to both the quarry and the jetty.
“… there was strong objection and the letter gave very clear specific details,” he said.
The letter was copied to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labour, Saboto Caesar; the Minister of Health, Wellness and The Environment, Jimmy Prince; and the Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Sustainable Development and Culture, who is also MP for North Leeward, Carlos James.
“I don’t know what is sustainable about a quarry,” Charles said, adding that the letter was copied to the Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Information Technology, and National Parks, Rivers, and Beaches Authority.
He said that the letter, which was addressed to Ms Dornet Hull, the secretary of the Physical Planning and Development Board, pointed to “certain discrepancies in the manner in which the project is carried out”.
“In fact, paragraph five of that said letter states, ‘We are extremely surprised to see that no independent environmental impact assessment has been done for either of the applications.’
“The letter went on to say in its conclusion, ‘The St Vincent and the Grenadines conservation fund does not oppose development, but it must be done in a transparent, inclusive, and sustainable manner.’
“They also went on to say that they therefore register objection to the proposed applications for the reasons mentioned above on the following basis.”
He noted that the SVGCF opposed the project because no environmental assessment was done, no environmental management study was done and no environmental and social management plan was done.
There was no wave action study, there were no public or community consultations and the SVGCF said there was insufficient information regarding the construction and the process of the jetty or the pier.
“But when the man wants to build somewhere, they come and they tear it down,” Charles said.
“Certain parts of Richmond, you can’t go and take sand. They block off the front part right here for the people in Fitz Hughes to go and take out the gravel and the sand by which they live.
“They block it off, but you want to come and take away a whole mountain for little or nothing — 30 pieces of silver.
“Disrespect, selfish, reckless, greed, no concern for human lives. That’s really worth it? Is that really worth it? And they come and give the farmers a few dollars.
“As if that is a magic wand, they will wave it and all the problems with the quarry will go away.”The educator said that while he is not an engineer, he could read, review, and understand.
“After you conceptualise a project like that, and after you decide a project of that nature should take place, you do an environmental impact study,” he said, adding that an EIA identifies both negative and positive impacts of any development activity or project.
This includes the project’s effects on people, their property, and the environment.
“An environmental impact assessment also identifies measures — very important — to mitigate the negative impact while maximizing the positive ones.
“We cannot take any mitigation steps because we don’t know what is happening. We don’t know; we just don’t know. We just do not know what is happening ‘round there.
“We haven’t studied it and that worries me. It worries me that a prime minister who promised good governance can do this to North Leeward.”
“Listened to this: ‘If a proper EAI is carried out, then the safety of the environment can be properly managed at all stages of the project — planning, design, construction, operation, monitoring, and evaluation as well as decommissioning.’
“So, in other words, they are supposed to show us a computer simulation as to how Richmond will look after 30 years.
“How you think Richmond is going to look after 30 years? We have our properties, we work so hard to invest, build our properties, paying our mortgage and one day you wake up and say oh, your property is now devalued because of the hazard of the quarry… Cracks in it.”
Charles said that the United Nations has a lot of conventions on issues such as establishing quarries.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people talks about respect for people and their land …
“Our sovereign privacy has been invaded. The United Nation is advocating that the public must be involved at all stages of the projects.
“In fact, they said arrangements ought to be made by public authorities to enable the public affected and environmental non-governmental organization to comment on for example, proposals for the project affecting the environment or plans and programmes related to the environment.”
He said that in keeping with UN standards, the feedback from the community should be considered in decision-making, information and the final decisions provided as well as the reasons for the decisions.
“So, in other words, before they cut one tree and the backhoe come and remove one bucket or shovel, the project should have been a buzzword among us.”
He said there should have been discussion with business owners, schools, and PTAs, fishers, and farmers.
“You have all the guys down there … who would have invested thousands of dollars in their seine.
“And they (government) still come and tell us how they’re gonna build fisheries. Where will the fish be for fisheries when they pollute the water? You want to build agro-processing plant when you take lands and kill the crops, way par you going get fruits and vegetables to agro-process?” Charles said, partly in the vernacular.