JSC members: Chaguaramas needs evacuation plan

The Chaguaramas boardwalk, one of the recreational sites in the western peninsula.  File photo/Ayanna Kinsale
The Chaguaramas boardwalk, one of the recreational sites in the western peninsula. File photo/Ayanna Kinsale

MEMBERS of Parliament's Local Authorities, Service Commissions and Statutory Authorities Joint Select Committee (JSC) expressed concern that there does not seem to be an evacuation plan for the Chaguaramas peninsula should a natural disaster affect the area.

They raised their concerns during a virtual meeting with representatives of the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) and the Planning and Development Ministry on Friday.

JSC members also called for an accurate way to determine how many people are in Chaguaramas on a daily basis and a proper traffic management plan for the peninsula.

In response, CDA acting general manager Karen Clark-Rowley told them, "We will be addressing those issues as soon as possible."

JSC chairman, Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh, recalled that an evacuation plan for Chaguaramas was discussed when the CDA met with the committee five years ago.

While acknowledging the presence of the Chaguaramas Heliport as a location from which the military could use to airlift people if the peninsula is cut off, and dry runs the CDA has had with the Coast Guard for possible sea evacuations, Deyalsingh was concerned about the absence of clearly defined evacuation plan.

Government Senator Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal agreed. She said she was with her family in Chaguaramas on August 21, 2018 when TT experienced the aftershocks of a 6.9 magnitude earthquake.

Describing herself as someone who does not handle such situations well, Sagramsingh-Sooklal said, "That (event) is so vivid in my mind. I saw the chaos one-on-one."

While she acknowledged statements from CDA officials that they are trying to develop an evacuation plan, Sagramsingh-Sooklal said, "It is necessary to have interim measures in place."

She suggested the CDA seek feedback from private-sector entities in Chaguaramas to help develop a workable evacuation plan. As well as possible natural disasters, Sagramsingh-Sooklal said an evacuation plan could also address any potential health, safety and environmental concerns when parties are held in Chaguaramas.

Government Senator Laurence Hislop was baffled that the CDA did not appear to have a way to determine how many people are in Chaguaramas at any time.

"We have no idea of the kind of figure (of people) there."

Hislop said most people prefer to drive to Chaguaramas rather than take a water taxi.

Even if the authority does not charge people to enter Chaguaramas, it should still be able to accurately measure the number of people who enter and leave the peninsula.

Hislop said, "There is enough technology out there (to do that)."

Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial said this information was also key to a proper traffic management plan for Chaguaramas.

CDA director Robert Cezair said the authority has been discussing this with the Works and Transport Ministry.

"We hope to come up with a solution soon."

Tunapuna MP Esmond Forde recalled that in 2001, the Patrick Manning administration was contemplating building a causeway from Port of Spain to improve traffic flows between the two areas. He said this initiative was floated after logistical challenges with hosting the Miss Universe Pageant in Chaguaramas in 1999.

Planning Ministry acting permanent secretary Marie Hinds was uncertain why that initiative was never implemented.

Clark-Rowley said while the CDA has plans to deal with what she described as a tier one disaster, the Diego Martin Regional Corporation (DMRC) has plans to deal with a tier two disaster.

Cezair said the CDA and the DMRC are in constant communication about matters taking place in Chaguaramas, which falls within both of their jurisdictions.

Clark-Rowley added that two CDA officials attend monthly DMRC meetings.

In response to a question from St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen, Cezair said there is no confusion between the CDA and the DMRC about their roles in handling matters in Chaguaramas. He added this would not change as Diego Martin seeks to establish itself as a borough.

Cezair also assured Deyalsingh that Chaguaramas has reliable cell phone service.

Clark-Rowley said the CDA has a hotline which people can use to call in emergencies, such as hikers being lost on trails in the peninsula.


"JSC members: Chaguaramas needs evacuation plan"

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