Environmental safeguards will be implemented for new DHB – EPA

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EPA Head Kemraj Parsram

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in defending its decision to waive the requirements for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the new Demerara River bridge, has assured that it followed the EPA Act and also its authorisation process.

The agency in a statement on Tuesday outlined the process it used to make its decision, and it follows continued commentary from sections of society on the EPA’s decision not to require the submission of an EIA for the project.

EPA explained that the Act governing its operations requires that a proposed project’s likely impact on the environment be considered. Specifically, the Act empowers EPA to decide whether a project requires an EIA or not.

“This is a two-stage process – first, deciding whether an EIA is required (screening); and second, where it is required, conducting a full EIA study and the procedures outlined in Section 11. In screening, and considering whether there may be significant impacts, a professional judgement is used taking into account the location, design, possible impacts, existing knowledge, and information,” EPA explained.

The agency explained that in the case of the new Demerara Harbour Bridge, all relevant steps in its Environmental Authorisation process were applied, contrary to what is being reported in sections of the media.

They also explained that the project summary in question is not the only document considered by the EPA to arrive at its decision. Rather, the agency noted that site visits and interviews were conducted and screening reports were prepared. This is the process that is followed to determine the necessity of an EIA.

“The EPA considered all information available including the project summary, feasibility study including the key activities articulated in the IESIA and types of bridges (low vs high span vs floating). In addition, we examined other similar bridge projects and the typical activities associated with construction and operation pertinent and possible environmental impacts. Any approval will be dependent on the final designs prior to project implementation.”

“Further, we considered the existing baseline for water quality, air quality, noise, biodiversity, during the screening. Analysis provided in an initial Integrated Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (IESIA) also supported EPA’s screening of potential impacts and resulting decision,” EPA said.

According to the EPA, the existing information it used was sufficient to make an informed judgement. While it admitted that knowledge gaps were identified in the Integrated Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (IESIA) and from their own examination of existing data, it was decided that these gaps were inconsequential to the overall process of screening.

EPA further explained that several reports and assessments were done by agencies including the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), to support the screening process and decision. Additionally, the existing baseline for water quality, air quality, noise and biodiversity was considered during the screening.

“Any knowledge gaps that obtain presently, will be addressed in the Environmental Management Plan and other documents eg Traffic Management Plan, Biodiversity Studies etc. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Act only stipulates requirements for the content of an Environmental Impact Assessment which are found in Section 11,” EPA said.

“All can agree that a new bridge across the Demerara is not only timely, but necessary, and the EPA will work to ensure that all environmental safeguards are in place and followed. While we make these guarantees, this does not mean that the project has been approved or rejected,” they added.

The new four-lane, fixed span Demerara River bridge, which will form an important link between the East Bank and West Bank of Demerara (WBD) and alleviate the traffic woes currently faced by the East Bank of Demerara (EBD), had received a $21.1 billion allocation from Budget 2022.

The construction of the new Demerara River bridge is slated to start in the fourth quarter of 2022. The project is expected to be finished within two years. The bridge will land aback Nandy Park, EBD, and at La Grange, WBD.
Last year, Cabinet granted its no-objection for China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd to construct the bridge at a proposed cost of US$256.6 million. The contract was awarded based on a Design-Build-Finance (DBF) model with financial terms and conditions which would be no less favourable than those submitted in the preferred bidder’s price proposals.

The new bridge will offer easy connectivity to both the existing East Bank Demerara road as well as the new Diamond-to-Ogle bypass on the eastern side of the river and to the existing West Bank Demerara road and the new Parika-to-Schoonord road on the western side of the river.

The new bridge will also offer critical connectivity to the new Wales Development Authority, which will be a major centre of productive activity when it comes on stream.