President Ali, VP Jagdeo support EPA’s decision to bypass EIA for new DHB

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— say high span bridge likely to have less impact than current floating one

President Dr Irfaan Ali and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo have both supported the move by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bypass an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the new Demerara Harbour Bridge project.

In a public notice published last month, the EPA said it screened the environmental permit application for the new bridge across the Demerara River and determined that it will not significantly affect the environment hence, it is exempted from conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment as outlined in Section 11 of the Environmental Protection Act.

President Dr Irfaan Ali

However, EPA’s Executive Director Kemraj Parsram had explained that an Environmental Assessment and Management Plan will have to be done instead. When asked about their views on this decision during a press conference in New York on Friday, both President Dr Irfaan Ali and Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo supported the move. According to Ali, at face value the proposed new bridge would be an environmental improvement on the current one.

“So you have a Demerara Harbour Bridge there now that is a floating bridge that of course, and this is in my own analysis that I’m giving you now, even without looking at the technical report, you have a floating bridge that affects flow, that affects the sea bed and everything and is a big part of siltation,” President Ali said.

“And you have a (new) bridge now that is a high span bridge, that does not have anything to do with the flow of water and so on. So its actually an improvement. In my analysis it is an improvement from an environmental perspective, from a marine life perspective. It’s an improvement from where we are to where we’re going,” the President also said.

Jagdeo meanwhile not only agreed with the President, but also went on to call out the selective criticism of the work of the EPA, highlighting instances in the past where decisions were made that had significant impacts on the environment.

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo

“What bothers me a lot is this new found vigilance about environmental impact assessments. We had an EPA that presided over issuing some of the worst work permits in the past. And we had nothing to say about it. For Liza one and Liza two,” the Vice President said.

“A 25-year environmental permit was given to Exxon when the law says only five years you should give an environmental permit for. So, the EPA has credible explanations Mr. President, I don’t think we have to do that,” Jagdeo also said.

The Public Works Ministry launched the bid documents for the new Demerara River bridge in April. The contract for the much-anticipated new Demerara River crossing is expected to be awarded and signed by the end of this year.

This new bridge across the Demerara River will be high-fixed span with a 50-metre flyover at minimum or “as high as, or higher than, the Marriott Hotel” to allow for marine vessels to pass without any interruption to vehicular traffic.

As such, the bridge would land aback Nandy Park on the East Bank of Demerara and at La Grange, West Bank Demerara, from where an alternative highway would be constructed all the way to Parika, East Bank Essequibo.

The new bridge is expected to be completed in two years from the date of the commencement order. Its construction of the new bridge will be timely, as the East Bank is notorious for its heavy traffic congestions due to the current retractable bridge.

Floating at 1.25 miles, the current Demerara Harbour Bridge is a strategic link between the East and West Banks of Demerara, facilitating the daily movement of thousands of vehicles, people, and cargo.

The structure was built in the 1970’s and was opened in July 1978 with the expectation of lasting only 10 years. However, some 43 years later, the bridge is still floating and being kept alive by maintenance works.