Illegal quarry operators put Wallerfield residents under siege

Illegal quarry operators put  Wallerfield residents under siege

Residents of Moonan Road, Wallerfield, protest over illegal quarrying in their area.


PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad--For three years, two alleged illegal quarries operating near Block five in Wallerfield, have used Moonan Road and other nearby traces and roads as arteries transporting material, dug out from state land, in and out of the area.

Materials like gravel, sand and limestone are sold for hefty profits, tax-free.

While the operators of the quarries are raking in the cash from the operation, residents of Moonan Road are complaining that the quarry operators are, at an increasing rate, destroying the road and kicking up plumes of dust.

Residents said they have been threatened to give up their farmland to allow the operators to expand their business or else they will face consequences.

In January, residents wrote to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, the commissioner of police, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the commissioner of State Lands seeking assistance.

In the letter, they stated: “We, the residents of Block five Wallerfield, Arima, are currently under siege by criminal elements who are involved in illegal mining. These illegal mining culprits have plundered government lands all over eastern Trinidad and now they are threatening us to sell parcels of land which were leased to us by the Ministry of Agriculture to facilitate farming operations, which includes livestock and the growing of short-term crops.

“Recently, we were approached by [someone – Ed.] and told that we would have to leave our premises for a reasonable cost to allow him to extract pit run from these lands. He threatened to ‘deal with us’ if we did not comply, as he has recently acquired a new wash plant from China and he needs more land to extract pit run.”

On Thursday morning, after deciding that they could not wait any longer for the authorities to act, residents came together and blocked the road in protest. Individual complaints about the operations of the illegal quarries in the recent past, residents said, were met with death threats.

“We are being threatened by gunmen who will come up against anyone who stands up against them and they say anyone will die, so what do you want us to do? We have to come out together because if we send out two or three men, they are looking to kill you. That’s what they tell you.

“All these police out here and they are not serving their function. What are they supposed to do? Not protect and serve? We have a couple of children suffering from the dust. I almost died in my bed from a seizure. My friend’s daughter has had three throat infections. These men have no remorse. This [has been] going on for about three months now,” a male resident, in his early 40s, said.

As he spoke with Guardian Media, other residents shouted their version of complaints. The father of the child who suffered three throat infections shouted at police officers, responding to the protest.

“They overdoing it now. It’s the little children we care about. For them to make a million dollars, I must bury my child?” he said.

A short distance away, around 200 metres, at his home, his wife and three children swept and mopped their house in an attempt to remove as much of the dust as possible. The children, all ill, were kept home from school this week.

As Guardian Media walked further along the road, dust could be seen everywhere. Cars parked to the side were blanketed. There were even coatings on roofs. Throats became scratchy and eyes began to burn.

“Every morning I walk this road, I am not a rich person. I can’t afford a car. Every morning I walk this road with my three children. Two pairs of white sneakers mash up between January and February. It is wrong.

“We know [there are] quarries around, but right now, it is too much quarrying. Whoever is in charge of these quarries needs to come together and hear what we have to say,” another resident demanded.

Lutchman Samaroo, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years, complained that his four grandchildren, especially two of them with asthma, have been severely impacted by the dust. He said every time villagers raise concerns, the quarry operators wet down the road with water trucks, creating mud.

“Where does the mud go? We are suffering. We need assistance. I have a family. I’ve never seen this done before. But because people live in a million-dollar area and they are people friends in Parliament or wherever, we have to suffer and they make millions. When they make millions, we have to spend thousands by the doctor,” he complained passionately.

Most residents said their aim was not to shut down the quarries but, rather to ensure that the quarry owners showed the community some basic respect. Apart from the dust, they complained that truck drivers, without any regard, were driving recklessly, endangering people walking the roads.

“We [are] fed up. He tell himself he [can] walk over us. From my understanding, he says he has worth. He doesn’t care about the community. With all the money and the worth he has, we have a say as residents,” another female resident said.

The name of one of the supposed quarry owners was repeatedly called by residents. They insisted it was no secret who was behind the operation – a major player from Sangre Grande, they claimed. While police officers reporting to the scene spoke of the illegality of the protest, they ignored what was taking place at the end of the road – a mere four-minute walk away.

With Moonan Road closed, the quarry operators created a makeshift road. Every minute, almost on the dot, an empty truck heading towards the quarry or a fully loaded truck heading from the quarry sped down the makeshift road, but police paid them no mind, despite them carrying illegal material. There was a sense of normalcy about the illegal quarrying. It is a familiar normalcy for communities in certain parts of the country, almost as if the residents are resigned to the fact that the operators are untouchable.

Speaking with residents, the senior officer at the scene said, “We will assist you all with dialoguing with the company. We will dialogue with them. I told the alderwoman that I would help her engage the company.”

A resident laughed when he heard the officer say that, claiming that he would “bite his back,” if that individual came to speak with them.

Councillor for Wallerfield/La Horquetta Kerry-Anne Roberts Kasmally said residents protested because of mining that was taking place.

“The mining is alleged to be illegal. The residents chose this morning [Sunday, February 25] to voice their concerns using a protest. The corporation is here and we seek to partner with all stakeholders to bring a resolve to this particular situation, unfortunate as it is,” she said.

In a 2023 investigative report, Guardian Media spoke with sources from the National Quarries Company Limited. Sources revealed that large-scale quarrying operations earn millions of dollars every month. “The operators are only paying for diesel, operators and key manpower like having mechanics on sites. You are talking about at least $5 to $7 million in four weeks – minimum. If it’s $5 million, it’s because of rain. Once the weather is good, $7 million, every four weeks. Those are hard, evidence-based numbers.”

As of January 1, 2023, eight organisations had mining licences to legally quarry. There are no legal quarries in Wallerfield. ~ Trinidad and Tobago Guardian ~

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