All the friends of the Asa Wright Nature Centre (AWNC) are aware of the quarrying activities down the valley at Verdant Vale. The four limestone quarries there create massive scars in the forested hillsides. We continue to lobby for better operating procedures and controls on the quarries, in order to minimise their impact on the environment. In one small way we were spared having to gaze into the sores from our verandah. There is a ridge and a line of trees which kept most of the operations hidden from our view.
But that changed early in March. All of a sudden, National Quarries Company Limited (NQL), the Government-owned quarry, sent equipment over the ridge, and began bulldozing a large swathe of hillside, in full view of our verandah. We could even hear the sound of the tractors!
Chairman Dr. Judith Gobin immediately sent a letter to the Minister of Planning and Development, Dr. Bhoe Tewarie, asking who, if anyone, had given NQL permission to expand their operations over the ridge. Others immediately wrote the media, and sent copies to relevant government ministers. All of these letters were posted on Facebook, and a massive outcry was raised against the expanded quarrying.
The reaction from the Government was immediate, and surprising, but warmly welcomed. The Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs, Senator Kevin Ramnarine called immediately to ask if he could visit on Friday 9th March to see the problem. Chairman Gobin and former Chair Dr. Carol James both came up to Spring Hill to meet the Minister and his entourage, which included officials of NQL. The Senator observed the situation from the verandah, and listened to the concerns of Asa Wright. He also heard the arguments from NQL for the expansion. Other government ministers, including Housing and the Environment
Minister Dr. Roodal Moonilal, Works and Infrastructure Minister Jack Warner, and Dr Bhoe Tewarie also expressed their support for Asa Wright’s position.
AWNC held a media conference in the verandah on Monday 12th March. Members of the media saw the destruction of the forest on the mountainside, and learned of the threats to biodiversity, future water supplies and the possibility of guests not wanting to visit in the future.
The media carried the story and our concerns through the week which followed.
On Tuesday 13th March, Dr. Gobin was a guest on CNC3 TV’s Morning programme, where she outlined AWNC’s concerns to the nation. Later that day the Government announced that NQL had been instructed to cease the expansion, return to their original area, and to begin a re-planting exercise to replace the trees felled. But more than this. They announced that the “control” of quarrying nationwide would revert to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), from where it had been moved some four years earlier.
This meant that the overview of all quarrying operations would be conducted by the EMA, in the Ministry of the Environment, and not the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs. This move has received the support of all environmental groups.