Frustrations are at an all-time-high in the village of Acono where residents say they have exhausted almost every avenue available in their attempt to stop a new quarry operator from entering the Maracas Valley.
This is the third time the community has had to push back against efforts by Blue Diamond Quarries Ltd to mine for blue limestone in the Maracas Valley’s last untouched watershed.
The community has been dealing with the adverse environmental effects of quarrying for the past 70 years and residents like Simeon Nakhid, Vice President of the Acono Village Dynamic Action Committee (AVDAC), told Cari-Bois News they won’t back down until it stops.
“The bottom line is, we don’t want any new quarry in the Maracas Valley. We are already struggling to deal with what we already have,” he said.
Nakhid said residents already suffer from water supply shortages and fear that a new quarry in the valley’s last untouched watershed may further aggravate the situation.
Blue Diamond Quarries Ltd is currently pursuing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in order to secure the necessary permissions from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to mine in the La Caurita Watershed in the Maracas Valley.
The proposed site is located on the other side of a mountain top that already houses a quarry operated by Coosal’s Group of Companies. Nakhid cited the community’s experience dealing with the environmental impact of The Coosal’s Group quarry as their reason for opposing a new quarry operator entering the valley.
“I’ve seen how the natural environment in Acono has changed over the years because of quarrying and the community has had enough.”
A company called Kairi Consultants Limited was contracted to engage in a series of consultations with the community and on December 19, 2020, Cari-Bois News was able to attend one which was held as a cottage meeting at Uncle Ben’s Restaurant and Bar. The consensus among most attendees was the same – “No new quarry”.
Cari-Bois News contacted several residents of Acono individually to learn more about why they opposed the proposed quarry. Many like retiree, Julie Reyes De Matas, pointed to the state of the Acono river which she described as “nasty”.
On the other hand, system analyst, Ray Francis, shared a more nuanced perspective, stating that he believes quarrying has its upsides and downsides. He explained, “on one hand you need the quarry stone for buildings and construction but then you have a community that feels you don’t care about them cause you won’t try to fix up the place after you get what you want.”
AVDAC sent a letter to the EMA on January 14, 2020, detailing the major issues that the community has with the proposed quarry. In the letter, AVDAC draws a link between the community’s water supply shortages and the degradation of their waterways.
“The Acono River, the main drainage for the watershed that Coosal’s quarry occupies, is destroyed – muddy, dry and lifeless. It is so unfit for human use that it was diverted away from WASA’s intake,” the letter states.
The letter further states that the Caurita river is now the community’s only dependable water source as a result of how the Acono river has been degraded. Caurita river flows from the the La Caurita watershed where Blue Diamond Quarries Ltd hopes to establish the proposed quarry.
The letter also highlights the fact that the proposed quarry would be located in the centre of the hiking trails to the Caurita Petroglyphs. The petroglyphs constitute the largest documented rock art in Trinidad and are described by the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago as being “an important spiritual place for the First Peoples or Amerindians in Trinidad”. The Santa Rosa First Peoples Community places special spiritual significance on this artefact and the surrounding area.
AVDAC is not the only community group in Acono taking a stand against the proposed quarry. The Maracas Valley Action Committee (MVAC) has also been vocal in its opposition with its Vice President, Kelvin Nakhid, leading calls for pushback and collaboration with other groups within the community.
Both groups stood against the previous attempt by Blue Diamond Quarries Limited in 2016 to mine in the valley. Simeon Nakhid of AVDAC said he is enthusiastic about working with MVAC but is now worried, that even together, they may not be powerful enough to stop the quarry this time around. Nakhid told Cari-Bois News he does not believe there can be a fair compromise and suggested that the community may have no choice but to take drastic action. “We don’t want no quarry. We don’t care if we have to put up tires and block the road,” he said.
But before things get to that point, Nakhid said he wanted to ensure that the community had been thorough in exploring all options available to them. The letter his group sent to the EMA highlighted a 15-year timeline of resistance to the proposed quarry and called for all stakeholders to address the issues already plaguing the community as a result of quarry activity.
The letter states: “Instead of facilitating any new attempts to exploit the Valley, we urge the EMA and all other stakeholders to focus on improving and rehabilitating the environment of the Valley through the restoration of the water courses available to us by damming the Concorde River upstream of Coosal’s and making it available to the Acono Water Works; by mandating ecologically appropriate rehabilitation of quarry lands to increase the resilience of the watershed; and by listening to the community when we say NO.”
Other stakeholders that received a copy of the letter included: Franklin Khan, Minister of Energy and Energy Industries; Rohan Sinanan; Minister of Works and Transport; Esmond Forde, Member of Parliament for Tunapuna; the Water And Sewerage Authority (WASA); and Kairi Consultants Limited.
Cari-Bois News spoke with a representative for Kairi Consultants Limited who offered the following response: “We are conducting a neutral study. So we get information from the community as well as government agencies on the issue and we use that information to make our assessment.”
The community is now waiting to to find out whether any of their concerns will be addressed.
Seven issues highlighted by AVDAC in their letter to the EMA
|• All runoff from the proposed quarry will eventually discharge in the Caurita River, the only major source of freshwater available to Acono Village and Caurita.|
|• There are seven (7) bridges on the Caurita road under which the river flows and none are able to withstand the weight of a loaded quarry truck. In addition, none of them allow for two-way traffic.|
|• In the upper reaches of the Caurita River, the river crosses the road eleven (11) times, flowing over concrete pads, many of which have collapsed|
|• There is major erosion along the Caurita road where slippage is likely to happen with any additional heavy usage|
|• Runoff would inevitably result in increased siltation of the Caurita River, compromising its quality and also leading to increased instances of flooding;|
|• Caurita Road is very narrow and in many areas, single lane. Many homes are built right on the edge of the roadside with no setback. It would be impossible for quarry trucks to operate without significant disruption to these residents;|
|• Caurita residents already feel the effects of blasts from Coosal’s which is on the opposite side of the ridge, west of the Caurita catchment. Blasting in Caurita would be much closer and place the residents at higher risk as many homes are built without the necessary foundation and reinforcements;|