Nidco: People paid for land near Tobago airport

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Officials of China Railway Construction, right, and residents of Silk Cotton Trace, Crown Point square off after a roadway was blocked last Friday. – DAVID REID

National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (Nidco) chairman Herbert George has described as “totally incorrect,” the view that the company and China Railway Construction (Caribbean) Ltd, are trying to displace residents of Silk Cotton Trace Ext and Crompston Trace, Bon Accord, Tobago, to make way for the new airport without compensation for their properties.

Nidco is the project manager for the $1.2 billion ANR Robinson airport expansion project while China Railway Construction is the main contractor.

George was responding to Friday’s incident in which three segments of the roadway at Silk Cotton Trace Ext were blocked with boulders in a move which residents claimed was done to forcibly remove them from their properties.

He said even before the acquisition process for the expansion of the airport started, the Government had secured a loan of $300 million to pay residents for the properties that were to be acquired.

“That was done, so it is incorrect to say that we are displacing people and inconveniencing them by blocking the road and we have not paid them. That is not totally correct,” he told Sunday Newsday.

George claimed most of the residents whose properties were to be acquired have already been compensated.

“However, there is a block of persons where the Government had done a previous acquisition of that block of land and the people were never removed. The Government did not take possession of the property.”

“People remained on the property so much so that there is one person there who has taken the Government to court for payment for his property.

“But apparently the information that we have is that payment was previously given to the father of that person. The father was fully paid and that person now is feeling that he is entitled to payment and has not been paid.”

Nevertheless, George said there are issues to be ironed out.

“But those will be done and eventually people will be moved and they will get on with their work.”

Claiming permission was granted to close Silk Cotton Trace Ext and Crompston Trace “many moons ago,” George said an alternative route was prepared for use by the residents.

But, he said, the new Farley Augustine-led Tobago House of Assembly, which was sworn in last December, prevented the road from being closed.

“It is unfortunate that it is being presented as if we were just going on willy nilly without any regard to the property owners, closing them off from their properties.

“But I can say without any fear of contradiction that the properties that we have acquired, we have paid for it. We have bent over backwards to meet people and negotiate with people.

“So, it is not a case of our not negotiating and we just going in there and removing people. That is not the truth.”

However, George said he does not want to be at variance with the chief secretary’s version of Friday’s incident in relation to the processes for acquiring the residents’ properties to facilitate the expansion of the airport.

“I don’t want to appear to be contradicting the chief secretary. Let his narrative remain out there. We will leave the chief secretary’s version out there and we will do quietly what we have to do at Nidco.”

Resident Ricky Coward told Sunday Newsday the villagers are hoping the THA will prevent the roads from being blocked again.

“We are depending on the assembly to keep it functional because, without the assembly, they will do what they want. Because they (PNM) have done so many things wrong already, they can’t continue to do what they were doing so it makes things difficult for them.”

Coward believes residents who have not yet agreed to a settlement are being victimised.

“But we are trying to hold out because the people that gone, some of them can’t live in a proper house yet and so much time pass and rent take their money. They (government) meet us living somewhere where we were not begging or stretching out our hands for help.

“But if they move us now, we will end up as beggars and have to go to the media and different people to see if we could get assistance. And we eh want that.”

Contacted for comment, Canaan/Bon Accord assemblyman Joel Sampson said he was at an engagement and could not respond immediately.