Buchanan — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded an interactive meeting with citizens of Grand Bassa and Bong Counties on the environmental and social impact, the construction of a 120 MW Hydropower Dam over St. John River would have on communities near the river.
The meeting, which was held in District # 3 C, Grand Bassa County on Thursday, April 6, 2016 on behalf of HydroChina, attracted representatives from the Ministry of Land, Mines and Energy, Liberia Maritime Authority, Forestry Development Authority, (FDA), Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), Bong and Grand Bassa Legislative Caucuses and local authorities.
HydroChina is a Chinese firm involved in renewable energy and hydropower development worldwide.
HydroChina was invited by the Government of Liberia to work with Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) to develop hydropower in an effort to increase power generation in the country, P. Nanlee Johnson, Energy Analyst at the Ministry of Land Mines and Energy disclosed.
Johnson said the Chinese firm was invited based on the National Electricity Law of 2015, which removed LEC's monopoly over the energy sector, since it can't provide electricity for the entire nation.
He told residents that following initial talks with HydroChina, the Ministry of Land Mines and Energy referred the company to the EPA, which is empowered by law to grant permit to companies, whose operations would impact the environment.
Mr. Johnson is hopeful that the construction of the hydropower dam would help government meet its ambition to electrify 35 percent of the country by 2030, as provided for in the country's Energy Policy.
The Assistant Manager of EPA's Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) Unit, Aloysius K. Kotee corroborated that HydroChina has applied for permit to construct and operate a 120 MW hydropower dam over St. John River to provide affordable and uninterrupted electricity for Bong, Grand Bassa and other areas in the country.
He told the gathering that the meeting was intended to review the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report, which captured the positive and negative impacts the hydropower dam would have on local communities near the St. John River.
The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment was done on behalf of HydroChina by Natural Resources Development Corporation (NRDC), one of the 11 groups trained by the EPA to carryout environmental assessment, Kotee disclosed.
He indicated that the meeting to review the ESIA report shows that government has departed from the way it handled development projects in the past and noted "in the past, local communities were never consulted about the negative effects development projects would have on them."
Kotee also explained that the EPA was set-up in 2003 to among many others, address issues relating to the desecration of sacred sites like 'bush schools' and burial sites by companies executing development projects.
The head of EPA's Department of Compliance and Enforcement, Jerry Toe disclosed that the ESIA is a requirement for the granting of permit to firms desirous of implementing developmental projects in the country.
Mr. Toe challenged residents not to allow their quests for power drive their decisions in accepting the project without voicing out what would negatively affect them when the hydropower dam is built over the St. John River.
He asked residents to review the document from a critical standpoint and said "the kind of comments and questions you ask at this interactive forum, would determine the type of permit the EPA would issue to HydroChina."
EPA Deputy Executive Director General, Urias S. Goll lauded the people of Grand Bassa and Bong counties for turning out in mass to together with the EPA and other line ministries and agencies review the ESIA report for the construction and operation of the hydropower dam over the St. John River.
He thanked NRDC for completing the assessment and said the EPA commissioned the ESIA because it is aware that the hydropower dam will not only bring development, but will negatively affect local communities.
Mr. Goll disclosed that the EPA instructed the NRDC to catalogue all the negatives and positives things that would happen while the hydropower dam is being constructed and when it becomes functional.
He explained that he is aware that some communities would be resettled, while crops and scared sites would be damaged as a result of the construction of the dam and assured residents that the EPA would ensure that affected individuals receive compensations for their damaged crops and for resettlement.
John C. Nylander, a Consultant with NRDC told the gathering that three towns would be evicted, while several crops would be destroyed to give way to the construction of the hydropower dam.
He also assured that people would be compensated for their crops while people from the three towns including Ceegar Town, Weagon Town, and Rufus Kamei Town would be compensated for relocation prior to the commencement of the project.
Nylander, a Chemist and former Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Land Mines and Energy said the three towns would be relocated because they would be washed under the water when the construction starts.
According to him, some sacred sites will be relocated, but said residents would be compensated for the relocation exercise.
He added that the construction would also affect some animal species, most of which would ran away due to noise associated with the construction and operation of the hydropower dam.
Despite, the negative impact the construction would have on the local people and the environment, Nylander disclosed that hydropower dam would provide employment opportunities for people of the two counties.
He added that when completed the dam, which would be bigger than the Mount Coffee Hydro Dam will provide affordable and stable electricity to Bong, Grand Bassa and other counties in Liberia.
Mount Coffee Hydro Dam has a capacity of 88 MW while the St. Paul Hydroelectric Project is generate 120 MW.
Elders, young and women representatives from both Bong and Grand Bassa counties attending the forum welcomed the construction of the hydropower dam over the St. John.
The citizens in separate statements said they have long dream of development project of such to be initiated over the St. John.