Sunday 29th July, 2007


Pranz Gardens residents protest against smelter

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Last Wednesday, Judy Mohammed recalled a peaceful time when she and her neighbours at Pranz Gardens, off Claxton Bay, enjoyed the swaying of cane stalks against the skyline.

These days, Mohammed’s house, like that of her neighbours, is filled with sand and dust coming from the clearing of the site to build an $8 billion steel smelter on a 600-acre site bordering the village.

And the once-quiet village is constantly bombarded with the noises of trucks and bulldozers tearing down the hillsides that were once planted with sugar cane.

Mohammed, and the 1,200 villagers of Pranz Gardens, are living in fear of the Essar steel plant, with its plumes of iron oxide dust and the incessant noise associated with heavy industry,

But Mohammed, 38, the mother of one and a draughtsman by profession, is not about quietly accepting this fate that has been thrust upon her and that jeopardises the life she and her husband spent the last 13 years building together.

She has chosen to fight back, joining the movement to stop the construction of the steel plant. And she is calling on the women of the Pranz Gardens, community to speak up, not just for their future but for the future of their children.

Speaking at a town meeting last week she noted that not only would the steel smelter have implications on Pranz Gardens but also would affect the Savonetta private housing community and parts of Claxton Bay and Sum Sum Hill.

The Government failed to have any meaningful consultations with the villagers, she said, noting that the Government did hold talks, though, with people who supported the establishment of the steel smelter.

She feels better planning was called for; that the plant could have been, for example, located on lands near the coast, south of Orange Valley. At this location, the dust and noise would not have created a problem for anyone, she says.

Dr Peter Vine, industrial and agricultural physicist, speaking at a town meeting on Wednesday, explained the implications of living in close proximity to a steel smelter.

He said that while the current dust problem was a localised one, the Essar plant would contribute to the faster consumption of T&T’s natural gas supply; if no more gas was discovered, current supplies are projected to run out by 2021.

He said even if natural gas was to be discovered at the rate of five per cent of the existing supplies annually, the projected industrial plants could consume this irreplaceable natural resource by 2022.

Speaking on what he called “serious doubts” on the technical side of the Essar project, Vine, displaying a map of the site, showed where communities were located downwind in relation to the plant.

He said an alternative option would be to relocate the communities.

He also noted that the site of the plant was land originally allocated to VSEP-availed Caroni (1975) Ltd workers for agriculture but was then taken back to facilitate industrialisation.

Farmers could have made “good business” out of agriculture in that area since it was closer to their homes, he added.

Vine also reviewed the Mittal steel plant’s operations to show what was likely to happen with the Essar plant.

He noted the dust plume of the Mittal electric arc furnace and that the company used 200MW electricity for its two electric arc and two electric ladle furnaces.

Essar, on the other, proposes to have one arc furnace and one ladle furnace, in the first instance, and then expand, he said, adding:

“It would come up to the same capacity as Ispat (Mittal).”

He also noted that Essar proposed to make steel in the same manner as Mittal.

“We see that dust coming out of Ispat (Mittal), the greatest amount coming out of the smelter area where they have the electric arc furnaces.”

He said running a power plant required efficient management to avoid atmospheric contaminants such as carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.

Essar’s proposal was not so different from Mittal when it came to dust control, he said, noting that Mittal had installed an inefficient bagging plant to trap the dust, “If they see the dust coming out, they say the monster is alive.”#######

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