Don’t let highway politics destroy Aripo Savannas

THE EDITOR: After sitting in court for two long days, it was clear to me (a concerned ecologist) that the average citizen had no say within those walls.

It was truly a despondent moment for citizens as these well-educated attorneys battled to and fro over the fate of the Aripo Savannas, an environmentally sensitive area, with no first-hand experience of its precious ecological characteristics.

Walking out of the courtroom, I came to the sad realisation that this fight was more one-sided than I had ever dreamt, leaving me to wonder what kind of warped transformations are in store for this nature reserve and its rich biodiversity. Given today’s swiftness in industrialisation, it is blatantly clear that science and politics must be merged to fight in such advanced environmental matters.

The Aripo Savannas, in short, perform numerous ecological services, many of which the average citizen is oblivious to. Here are just a few: flood water retention; aquifer replenisher; water and air purification; carbon sequestration, and biodiversity protection. It is therefore imperative that the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway extension to Manzanilla be constructed with these important services in mind. The ongoing argument concerning what size the buffer zone for the southern boundary of the savannas should be has always caused considerable controversy. Advocates for the current highway alignment claim it is not running through the savannas, hence there should be no ecological concerns, while detractors demonstrate that running a highway so close to an environmentally sensitive area comes with great environmental and social consequences, not only impacting plant and animal biodiversity, but hindering important ecological services beneficial to surrounding communities.

I, like thousands of other concerned citizens, recommend that an alternative route be utilised when constructing this highway to make it an eco-highway, or at the least displace the existing “access road” and “highway layout” approximately 300 metres south of Old Railway Road.

I strongly recommend that Nidco and the EMA seek further technical consulting before deciding on a final buffer zone.

Wildlife crossings link critical habitats, and if proper wildlife corridors are not implemented, our wildlife species will receive the shorter end of the rope.

At present, only two underpasses are approved for the five-km highway leg. I recommend a total of four crossings (two overpasses and two underpasses) to cater for the environmentally sensitive species the ocelot, or tiger cat, (Leopardus pardalis) which requires a very large habitat range as this genus of cats has the potential to travel the full length of Trinidad (80 km) well within a week.

To the next extreme, there are our red and yellow-headed galap friends (Rhinoclemmys punctularia and Kinosternon scorpioides, respectively) who we don’t expect to walk 23 km to find a crossing. I have already spotted several animal tracks along Old Railway Road (access road) and the highway pathway, some of which were followed by the tracks of hunters and their dogs.

The incautious actions of the EMA are not forgotten in south and north Trinidad and the effects of disturbing the southern watershed forest reserve in Morne Diablo and the mangroves at Invaders Bay are still evident. Similar concerns will eventually come to light if the construction of the C-R Highway extension and its successive segments are not properly done.



"Don’t let highway politics destroy Aripo Savannas"

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