By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen
- We asked the construction workers who levelled the ground here in 1999 what they were doing. They said they were going to build a brewery, that they would be making soda, says a woman in Pranz Gardens desperately to NorWatch.
She was unaware of the plans to build an aluminium plant until journalists from the NRK, the Norwegian National broadcasting system's documentary department came to the area in the spring of 1999 to make a programme about Norwegian jobs moving abroad. The inhabitants of the village were not given any information on the plans at that time, and they have not had any information since.
Formally, Pranz Gardens is only 15 years old. The village was established when some squatters made an agreement with the authorities and the national sugar company Caroni, who owned the area. NorWatch visited the village in January 2000.
In the initial phase, Norsk Hydro invests somewhere between 1.6 and 2 billion US dollars (14-18 billion Norwegian kroner) in an aluminium smelting works with a capacity of 475,000 tonnes, roughly the equivalent of the smelting works Hydro owns in Karmøy in Norway, which is the biggest in Northern Europe.
The project will create 550 new long-term jobs, and between 2500 and 3000 in the constructing period.
The plans include the construction of a gas power plant, which will produce energy for the electrolysis in the aluminium plant.
The authorities of Trinidad and Tobago have a strong wish to attract industry in other sectors than the extraction and processing of natural gas, because almost all the present heavy industry of the country belongs to this sector. Therefore, the authorities go a long way in relation to Norsk Hydro, and they have offered the company tax exemption for ten years. In return, they expect 2 billion US dollars during the first 20 years, in the form of petroleum tax (related to the gas power plant), royalties and other incomes.
- Norsk Hydro stops the development
- Our village is young, and under construction. We have 100 houses today, and there is construction work to be done on 40 of them. Another 100 sites have been surveyed, and some new families are about to settle down here. We have succeeded in creating a new and beautiful settlement, says the leader of the village committee Pranz Gardens Development Committee (PGDC), Frankie Puran.
Both the gas power plant and the aluminium plant will cause some pollution. Sulphur particles and nitric oxide effluents create local environmental problems, and the emissions of the climate gas CO2 from Trinidad will increase even more. The people in Pranz Gardens will be bothered by quite a lot of noise during the construction period, and by a big increase of traffic both during the construction period and afterwards.
However, the most important question for Pranz Gardens is whether they can keep their houses at all. Many ask whether they will be relocated by force, because a project of this size takes a lot of space.
Several times, they have seen people from the company surveying land and testing the foundations, the last time was one month before NorWatch visited the area.
- I believe Norsk Hydro will destroy the mangrove forest as well. We have seen their geologists working down there, says a woman in Pranz Gardens, pointing at the forest which starts on the other side of the road next to the village.
- One of the company's people said that they need a new port to transport raw materials to the smelting works. And they will build this in the middle of the mangrove forest, says Frankie Puran.
Information manager Thomas Knutzen in Hydro Aluminium confirms that port facilities is part of their plan for Trinidad, but he says that it has not been decided whether they will build a new one or use existing ports in the area.
- You cannot understand our difficult situation! We are building houses here. We want to live here. But this is a very insecure life. We are afraid, and we do not know whether this project, which will destroy our entire village, will be realised, says Frankie Puran, who says that he does not know if he dares to continue the construction on his own unfinished house, because he fears that it will be removed once it is finished.
Puran says that the unclear situation with Norsk Hydro's plans will probably delay the new building projects in the village as well, and he criticizes the company:
- The politicians say that these companies bring "development". Maybe that is true, but in our village Norsk Hydro is about to stop the development!
A middle-aged woman points out that the village must get up and fight against Norsk Hydro. Frankie Puran nods assent, but comments resignedly:
- We would prefer to stop the project. But it is not up to us to decide this. People like us never make the decisions.
- What would you have done?
Norsk Hydro is not an unknown company in the two villages. These two villages are the closest neighbours of Hydro Agri Trinidad's (HAT) three ammonia factories (see another article in this newsletter). The ammonia factories pollute the air and the water, and they are operated in an unsafe way, which has so far caused three people's deaths and injured several employees.
- Smell of gas and sirens, that is our contact with Hydro in a nutshell, says a woman in Pranz Gardens sarcastically.
- It is more than enough to be a neighbour of the three ammonia factories, says a young man who recently moved to Pranz Gardens with his family to settle down here. - But what would you have done in my situation? Would you have finished your house and settled down here?
- Put your pen away, and don't pretend you have a right to ask all the questions without giving any answers. This is the second time someone comes from Norway with pen and paper, asking us about our views on the situation. Even though we have not been given any official information yet. I want to know what you think. Do you have a family? I want to live with my family in this village. What would you have done in my situation? the young man asks desperately.
Only 20 metres north of Pranz Gardens, the sugar plantations of the state-owned company Caroni stretch out east of the mangrove forest and the sea in the west. From Pranz Gardens, you can see the roofs in the village Phoenix Park, on the other side of the sugar plantation. Phoenix Park will also be affected if Norsk Hydro's plans are realised.
In Phoenix Park, people shake their heads uncomprehendingly.
- Aluminium plant? Gas power plant? No, we have enough pollution here. Are you saying that there are plans? You must be wrong. We would have been informed if they were serious about this, don't you think? says a woman in Phoenix Park when NorWatch asks her to comment on the question.
Phoenix Park is a much older village than Pranz Gardens. Some of the inhabitants work for various companies in the relatively large industrial area Point Lisa's Industrial Estate, which borders on the village.
Frankie Puran in Pranz Gardens says to NorWatch that the people of the two villages must meet and discuss the matter, and then make a common request to Norsk Hydro, to the authorities and to Caroni, the owner of the site between the two villages.
The newspapers in Trinidad launched Norsk Hydro's alumina plans with much ostentation as a project there was agreement on, after an intentional agreement had been signed in the late autumn of 1998 at a grand ceremony where corporate manager Eivind Reiten from Norsk Hydro was present. Therefore, the authorities of Trinidad were very surprised when Norsk Hydro said in the spring of 1999 that the future of the project still was not clarified.
Sources in Trinidad & Tobago's Ministry of Energy & Energy Industries says to NorWatch that if Norsk Hydro does not make a decision on their involvement in the aluminium sector in Trinidad as soon as possible, the authorities will make it for them. NorWatch has been trying to get Energy Minister Finbar Gangar's official comment on this for a long time, but we have not succeeded.
NorWatch therefore contacted the plantation company Caroni, the owner of the site Norsk Hydro has an intentional agreement to develop.
Information manager Jai Parasram in Caroni says that the company has made roughly three square kilometres of land available to Norsk Hydro through a leasing agreement. The price for this is not public. Officially, NGC (National Gas Corporation) and NEC (National Energy Corporation) are responsible for the development of the area together with Norsk Hydro. This is because the plans will demand large amounts of natural gas.
Since the signals from Norsk Hydro are quite unclear, Caroni has had requests from other companies that are interested in carrying out the project, either on the proposed site or elsewhere on the island.
In the end of May 2000, Thomas Knutzen in Hydro Aluminium confirms that the decision about the plans on Trinidad still has not been made. He says that it is not clear when they will decide whether they will go on with the project or abandon it.
- But Caroni says that you have a leasing agreement that expires in January 2001?
- Then a decision will probably be made before that. That is all I can say about this now, Knutzen ends.
Hydro Aluminium in Trinidad & Tobago
Norsk Hydro's fully owned subsidiary Hydro Aluminium has made an intentional agreement with the authorities in the country to build a gas power plant and an aluminium plant. The investment budget is 1.6-2 billion US dollars (between 14 and 18 billion Norwegian kroner). The plans will employ 550 people in the long term, and somewhere between 2500 and 3000 people during the construction period. The smelting works will have a capacity of 475,000 tonnes of aluminium, the same size as the one Hydro operates in Karmøy in Norway. Hydro Aluminium leases a building site on the west coast of Trinidad.
Norwatch Newsletter 7/00