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Wednesday 26 June 2019
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Cumuto residents strike back

Plans for legal action action on Manzan highway project

In this April 7, 2018 file photo an area of forest is cleared for construction of the Cumuto/Manzanilla Highway. Cumuto residents are planning legal action to stop eviction from their properties to make way for the highway.
In this April 7, 2018 file photo an area of forest is cleared for construction of the Cumuto/Manzanilla Highway. Cumuto residents are planning legal action to stop eviction from their properties to make way for the highway.

Cumuto residents, fearing they may have to relocate to make way for the Government’s proposed Churchill Roosevelt Highway Extension to Manzanilla, are striking back.

United National Congress (UNC) senator and attorney Gerald Ramdeen, who has been asked by the party’s leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to review their plight, said yesterday he was in the process of drafting a pre-action protocol letter on the residents’ behalf, which he intends to issue to the Government either tomorrow or Tuesday.

Ramdeen said the residents’ had a sound case.

This development comes on the heels of a January 4 meeting in Cumuto, in which close to 150 residents occupying lands on the proposed path of the highway, revealed they had been issued notices by an engineering company, Voltec Engineering and Surveying Services Ltd, to survey land in the area.

Ramdeen, who attended the meeting, said then even though work on the highway had begun, residents had not been told which properties were earmarked for demolition.

“What was most disturbing about hearing the plight of the residents is that up to now, even though works have commenced on the highway and the demolition of the reserve through which the highway is running, the residents have not been told exactly which properties are going to be the subject of demolition or acquisition by virtue of the actions of the state in the highway,” Ramdeen had told Sunday Newsday after the meeting.

Ramdeen also had said he and others agreed to meet with the distressed residents on an ongoing basis to provide them with advice.

Yesterday, Ramdeen said residents who are likely to be displaced by the controversial project, have come forward with pertinent information in relation to their land tenure.

He told Sunday Newsday: “Over the past week, we have now identified all of the people in the process that we engaged in at the last meeting and everybody who is potentially affected has come forward with their relevant information about how long they have been there and who were their predecessors in title, how they came there, the length of their occupation.”

Ramdeen said they were now in a position, factually, to move forward.

“We are now able to present the facts to the Government in relation to the people who they definitely cannot move or who they have to pay compensation for to move and we will be doing that in the coming weeks.”

Ramdeen said more than 50 residents brought forward information in relation to how long they lived on their respective parcels of land.

“That being the first step – the information-gathering step – they will now move forward to the pre-action stage, writing the government, warning the government that these people ought not to be moved without proper notice and compensation and then take it from there.”

Meanwhile, National Infrastructure Development Co (Nidco) officials are expected to meet with key stakeholders, on Tuesday, to discuss the proposed project.

The meeting, scheduled for 1.30 pm, is expected to take place at Nidco’s headquarters at Don Miguel Extension, San Juan.

Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Christine Newallo-Hosein, Toco/Sangre Grande MP Glenda Jennings-Smith, Nidco’s land acquisition consultant and officials from the Land Settlement Agency and Sangre Grande Regional Corporation have been invited to attend the meeting.

The development comes some five months after Government was given the go-ahead to resume work on the controversial highway.

Last August, the Privy Council dismissed an appeal brought by the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), which had challenged the Environmental Management Authority’s June 2017 decision to grant a certificate of environmental clearance (CEC) to the Ministry of Works for the five-kilometre highway in the Sangre Grande area.

The FFOS had submitted that the CEC was “unreasonable, illegal, procedurally improper, irrational, null and void and of no effect.”

The ministry has said the project is expected to benefit citizens, particularly in Sangre Grande, Cumuto, Manzanilla and its environs.

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