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Monday, February 19, 2007

Alcoa in Trinidad and Tobago

I've been neither here nor there on aluminium smelters in Trinidad and Tobago. Rather, I should say that I have not been able to form an opinion either way.

The Government seems dead set on establishing aluminium smelters here, citing economic benefit and industrial development as cause.

The anti-smelter movement, comprised of various political, quasi-political, academic, residential and other miscellaneous bodies is dead set against it, citing everything from creeping dictatorship to environmental destruction.

I've heard tell of successful smelters established in various parts of the world, and I've heard tales of doom and gloom about smelters.

I've even heard the Prime Minister say recently that drug runners who use the nation's quiet fishing ports to move their stock are in support of the anti-smelter movement. And in response, I've heard the persons who oppose the establishment of smelters call for the drug runners to be identified among them.

Personally though, I don't think it matters who the drug runners are. If I were a drug runner, I wouldn't want major industrialisation taking place in or around any of my choice and quiet beach ports; I would be front and centre protesting too in between shipments. You just wouldn't know that I have an ulterior motive, like I assume many of the political and quasi-political movements do. But that's just an assumption, and an aside.

What I haven't heard much of is responses from the people who are supposed to set up these smelters.

Today, before heading out on the road to take Carnival Monday pictures, I ran across a section on Alcoa's website that the company has set up just to answer questions on their Trinidad and Tobago initiative.

It hadn't dawned on me until I read it that Alcoa already has a longstanding presence in Trinidad, as the following excerpt from their site explains.
Trinidad and Tobago brings together the operations of two Alcoa businesses: Alcoa World Alumina and the Alcoa Steamship Company. Alcoa has operated a materials transfer station at Tembladora in Trinidad and Tobago for more than sixty years, using the country's strategic location to ship bauxite and alumina to destinations in the U.S and Europe.

Tembladora offers deep-water harbor facilities, close to Alcoa's alumina operations in Suriname, which are located on a river too shallow for large ships. At the transfer station, shuttle ships from Suriname offload alumina for transfer to large vessels bound for customers in Baltimore, USA; Dunkirk, France; and Mosjoen, Norway.

Tembladora began service in 1950, although the Alcoa Marine Department was operating in the country since 1941. Bauxite shipment was discontinued in 1983, focusing operations on alumina. Today Tembladora employs 21 people and loads out an average of 525,000 tons of alumina per year. In June 2003, Tembladora received ISO 14001 Certification, making it one of only eight businesses in Trinidad and Tobago to achieve the environmental certification standard.

Alcoa is currently exploring the longer-term feasibility of building and operating a modern, low-emission aluminium smelter in Trinidad and Tobago based on energy derived from the country's vast natural gas resources.
The site further provides an overview of the proposed project that was to be situated at Chatham, the history of the environment and social impact assessment process with the EMA, a long list of noted stakeholders and
meetings with stakeholders going back to May 2004, information on Alcoa's global smelting operations, and a list of frequently asked questions about smelting, especially pertaining to the proposed operation in South Trinidad. They have even included an email address - AlcoaTrinidad@alcoa.com - at which you can contact them if you wish more information or want to be included on the list of stakeholders.

All in all, the site makes for interesting reading, and it is apparent that Alcoa is trying present a reasoned and reasonable case. They also seem to be seeking to ensure that if they come here, it is with the blessing of all potentially affected, and their operations benefit the country as well.

I'm still neither for nor against the smelters in South. But after reading what Alcoa had to say without anti-smelter activists shouting them down in public fora, I do consider myself a little better informed on the issues. I can thus make a decision based - if it were mine to make - on the issues and on information rather than on the rhetoric and politicising taking place on both sides.

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