In January, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced that upgrades to the ANR Robinson Airport in Tobago and the Tobago marina project in Canoe Bay would continue, despite concerns arising from the abrupt withdrawal of Sandals from the planned project in Buccoo.
The scope of the project includes upgrades to the existing terminal, originally built in 1953 and last refurbished in 2016, transforming it into a dedicated terminal for inter-island traffic and cargo flights. A new terminal building to serve international passengers is planned. To accommodate these considerable alterations, 84 acres of adjacent lands at Crown Point and Bon Accord will be acquired by the government.
In May, Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe announced that the project would affect 109 residents in 33 households, ten businesses and two farmers. Given how much the planners know about the impact of the project, the brewing conflict between landowners owning affected plots seems unnecessary and needlessly provocative.
The first consultation on the project was held in May 2018 and at a second in April, THA minority councillor Dr Faith B Yisrael found much wanting. According to the councillor, the THA had no representatives on the panel and claimed that representatives of Nidco, the state agency responsible for the project, still had no answers for questions posed by the residents at the 2018 consultation.
Social surveys of the affected landowners resulted in a 75 per cent response rate, 11 subjects declined to provide information, three referred questioners to their representatives and ten were not found. Section three legal notices have been issued to landowners, the first stage in the land acquisition process. This serves as notification that the state will enter the property for surveys and studies. These landowners can expect a section four notice in two months, a formal notification that they can submit their claims for recompense to the commissioner of valuations. The project’s managers have set November 2019 as their deadline for the completion of land acquisition to achieve a construction deadline of December 2020.
The decision by the THA Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles to meet with residents on a one-on-one basis seems to fly in the face of the kind of transparency and clarity that should hallmark a public sector mandatory land acquisition initiative. Residents complain of a lack of genuine consultation on the project and to be fair, the days of launching a project by posting notices ahead of buy-in by affected residents should have been long behind us.
Residents don't consider the process either fair or open, and the THA Chief Secretary should respond to their calls to intervene by insisting on appropriate public discussion of the matter.