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Rethink Chaguaramas Causeway-without-a-cause

Monday, December 7, 2015

For most of my life the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway ended abruptly at the Tarouba turnoff. That is where the money ran out in the 1980s. Where will it end now? 

The crash barrier at the end of the road stood testament to bad planning and financial mismanagement. It should have been a reminder to not let that happen again. 

Some learn slower than others. In July 2011, then Minister of Works and Transport, Jack Warner, with the blessing of his Prime Minister, managed to lay his hands on a TT$1.5 billion cheque to kick start construction of the Golconda to Point Fortin highway extension. Neither of them had a clue where the remaining TT$5.7 billion was to come from but the highway had to be built for “development” sake. 

Basking in his arrogance, Jack Warner, in a supposed putdown to highway critics, boasted that he got the better of them. He blurbed to the press that those who saw flaws in the planning and financing thought “…that we were joking, that it was tomfoolery, garbage and that the work would not go on…that it would not start, we had no money, no funding”.  

Looking in to his crystal ball he declared: “…at no point in time shall be the lack of payment, the lack of finance at any time be a reason for this work not to continue.” 

Well, that point is time is here. The money is done. The government is scrambling to borrow an extra $15 billion. The President of the National Infrastructure Development Co (NIDCO) was quoted last week as saying: “Everything will be delayed because of payment. The contractor has not been paid for a little while….”

There is no joy in watching another oil boom opportunity be wasted. It is a bittersweet “I told you so”. It is what all those opposed to the manner in which the highway was “planned” and “financed”, or the lack of thereof, said was going to happen. 

The final verdict on one of the most traumatic episodes in T&T’s environmental history has ended the only way it could. Some learn slower than others. A next pie-in-the-sky project is the Port-of-Spain to Chaguaramas causeway. An old government study estimated the price of that to be $7 billion. That report is a few years old, so let’s add another 1-2 billion for inflation to that figure. I was at a pre-election cottage meeting that Dr Rowley had with Goodwood Park residents. He mentioned that the causeway would not be considered because it was unaffordable. Surprisingly the causeway-without-a-cause found its way in to the PNM manifesto. 

Hopefully this causeway will never be built. If it ever is it will be the folly that equals the unfinished Point Fortin highway. 

Without taking the environmental impact in to consideration that project needs to be scrapped from government policy simply on the basis that it cannot pay for itself. If there is no feasible economic return, why consider it? It is the year 2015. Move on from these unimaginative mega projects and look at solutions instead.

Rational planning (like not planning where you cannot build infrastructure to support said planning) and smart use of mass transit are the only way to keep Chaguaramas accessible. The flawed Chaguaramas Development Agency master plan to develop Chaguaramas in to an imaginary tourist resort destination and the proposed housing development in Tucker Valley (Let’s hear publically about the upscale housing and apartments planned for the Golf Course in Tucker Valley, CDA. Stop scheming your plans in the dark.) call for an investment of 2 billion dollars. 

Supposedly those 2 billion dollars are meant to generate a return. Add the 8-9 billion dollars that a causeway will cost and it is clear that somebody’s math is off. Or somebody is not being honest about the level of investment and development planned for Chaguaramas. 

There is no reason why many of the projects that the CDA has thought up must be built in Chaguaramas (so craftily renamed a “heritage park” from a “national park”). Many of them could be better built on easily accessible land in Central Trinidad. Some old sugar cane industry brownfield sites come to mind. They would be closer to Trinidad’s geographic population center and create less traffic. 

Chaguaramas is a great gift to our nation. It’s earning potential is tremendous, if it is developed as an eco-tourism destination. 

Tired old ideas such as golf course tourism that justify the doubling of the Tucker Valley Golf Course and the construction of luxury housing, apartments and a hotel have failed in Tobago. There is nothing to suggest that it will work in Chaguaramas. 

With oil heading to US$20 a barrel, as predicted by Bloomberg and others, it is time to look at affordable projects with real value and real potential. Develop Chaguaramas as a National park with eco-tourism.


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