Secretary for the Environment, Kwesi Des Vignes, says environmentalist shouldn’t be alarmists about the proposed Sandals resort in Tobago, and that the location “isn’t completely in the Bon Accord lagoon and at Ramsar locations.”
Des Vignes also defended the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), stating that it was very particular on process and that he expects it to stick to the law.
Speaking at the post Executive Council media briefing on Wednesday at the conference room of the Division of Tourism in Scarborough, he said that as the Secretary with responsibility for the Environment, he appreciates the concerns of the environmentalists and stakeholders, but that “it would be irresponsible to become alarmist in how we approach things.
“Even with a Ramsar site, yes, the Bon Accord lagoon is a Ramsar site, the Sandals location isn’t completely in the Bon Accord lagoon and at Ramsar locations. There are provisions within the Convention that says basically… where there is need for development, there should be no net loss of mangroves, so it means if you cut down two trees here, you have to ensure that two trees are replanted within the location,” he said.
The Ramsar Convention or The Convention on Wetlands, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the Convention was signed in 1971.
Des Vignes also put faith in the work of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) on the project.
“One of the things that is very clear with the EMA is process and there is a process for the application of Certificates of Environmental Clearance… when an application is made, there may be need for additional information because of the level of impact that is expected on human life and the environment and then as such, an Environmental Assessment (EIA) may then be required, so it is not something that is automatically triggered, there are different parameters put in place…they do follow due process,” he said.
Des Vignes said he expects that the consultations on the proposed project, when scheduled, to be very clear, that the EMA would stick to the law and that the Government in its pursuit of the project, would stick to the law as well.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Government and Sandals Resort International (SRI) last year, and made public last month, says Government undertakes to expedite all development approvals, which environmentalists have argued include environmental assessment for construction of two hotels and a golf course within the area designated as the Buccoo Reef Marine Park and the Ramsar-designated Bon Accord Lagoon.
They have noted restrictions to activities within Ramsar-designated sites including taking or removing any mangrove and
dredging or interfering with the sea bed, asking how the mega construction planned by Sandals complies with the protected status of the Buccoo Reef Marine Park.