Illegal quarry operators have started mining inside the State-owned pine fields of Valencia, leaving behind open pits as deep as 20 feet.
Forestry workers who have been toiling in the pine field forests off Mora Trace, Valencia came upon the pits yesterday.
Expressing disgust with illegal mining, one worker said, “This is a hazard because there are contractors and other operators who work in the pine field.
The holes are about a quarter-mile into the bush close to the forestry reserve access road. Other pits are about half mile off the forestry reserve road.”
Showing a hole that was about 20 feet deep, the source said, “It appears they are searching for gravel.
The area here is sandy. Imagine what will happen when the rains come and fill up this hole.” Some of the largest pits are about 50 feet by 75 feet while the smallest measures about six feet by four feet.
“Others are hard to see because they are shrouded by bushes. It is very dangerous,” he added.
A resident said Mora Trace is usually guarded by men who are linked with the illegal quarry operators.
“We heard that there are boys with AK47s who stick around in the bushes in the forests looking out to see who speaks out. Everybody knows who the illegal quarry operators are and this is a billion-dollar business,” he added.
The quarrymen move with excavators and have no qualms about tearing down forests. There are tracks leading to abandoned houses where the lookouts hide.
A senior police source said it is difficult to arrest people for illegal quarrying because of the lookouts who tip off the operators.
Contacted for comment, Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat said by law, illegal quarrying falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Energy and Energy Industries.
“The Commissioner of State Lands provides technical support to Energy on these matters,” he said.
A senior official who requested anonymity said there were more than 100 quarrying sites across T&T but only 30 of them are currently being monitored by Ministry of Energy officials.
Illegal quarry sites have been found at Vega de Oropouche, Five Acres, off Sangre Grande, Valencia, Toco and Wallerfield. In South Trinidad, the Ministry has received reports of illegal quarrying along the Penal Rock Road and several parts of Barrackpore.
However, with limited support staff, the ministry has been unable to adequately monitor sites.
Penalties for quarrying
According to the Minerals Act, Chapter 61:03, the penalty for illegal quarrying is a fine of $700,000 and up to seven years in prison.
Any person who explores for mines, processes, imports or exports any mineral without a license issued by the Energy Ministry, upon first conviction will face a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years. For any subsequent conviction, the fine is $700,000 and imprisonment for seven years.
Anyone who knowingly purchases aggregate from unlicensed mining operators or trades in such mineral can also be arrested by police and can face a $500,000 fine and five years imprisonment.
Under the State Lands Act, Chapter 57:01, where the material dug, won, or removed is asphalt, upon a first conviction the penalty is a $300,000 fine and three years imprisonment. For subsequent convictions, the fine increases to $500,000 and five years imprisonment.
Where material other than asphalt is dug, won, or removed, upon first conviction persons can face a $120,000 fine and one-year imprisonment.
For subsequent convictions, there is a $300,000 fine and three years imprisonment.