By Lincoln G. Peters
Private construction company East International has defied a shutdown ordered by Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and it is massively backfilling a wetland to construct a road in Margibi County.
Over the weekend, the EPA shut down Fengshou International Rock Quarry used by East International and Sino Liberia dam to backfill a wetland of international importance in Marshall, Margibi County.
The EPA’s decision was based on the company’s alleged persistent non-compliant, and defiant posture to adhere to the EPA’s recommendations.
After a full-scale assessment of the company’s project on 19 October 2022, the EPA communicated recommendations to the company, including the need to stop repeated backfilling of a critical ecosystem to construct a 2.0 km of literate road in the wetland.
But East International Company has played down the EPA recommendations and the shut-down order, leaving many to wonder as to who is backing its defiant posture.
Residents of the affected area have been raising concerns over how a private company would defy a state regulatory agency with such much courage.
On Wednesday, 11 January 2023, the EPA along with its inspection department led journalists on an assessment tour at the East International and Sino Liberia dam to provide journalists with information on the happening.
The tour of the Marshall Wetland was intended to provide a comprehensive and first-hand account of the level of degradation being carried out at Marshall by human activities.
Marshall Wetland is one of Liberia’s wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the protection of wetlands.
Liberia is a signatory to the convention adopted in 1971.
When the assessment team arrived at the company’s operation site, an East International truck was seen backfilling the wetland.
Its caterpillar was also seen spreading dirt in continuation of the construction of a road to transport the company’s goods.
The management without fear of the presence of the team of EPA officers continued to backfill the wetland.
The company’s action was captured on cameras by members of the EPA and the team of journalists that had accompanied the inspectors.
After a while, the chief photographer of the EPA was requested by one of the company’s Chinese managers to delete the photos upon discovering that the EPA had gone on the site along with journalists.
Following the EPA photographer’s refusal to delete the photo, both of them engaged in a heated verbal exchange.
There was also a fistfight after the Chinese manager decided to confiscate the EPA photographer’s camera.
The tension was brought under control when other members of the EPA team hurriedly went to the scene and intervened.
While the EPA team tried to acquire from the Chinese manager what had led to the tussle, he got in his white Toyota Pickup and drove away from the operation ground.
The EPA team led by the agency’s head of Media and Corporate Communication, Mrs. Danise Love Dennis-Dodoo, decided to engage the management as to why the company is still engaged in the backfilling of the wetland after being halted by the EPA.
The company’s Chief of Security, Mr. James G. Dyuodeh admitted that he is aware that the EPA has shut down backfilling.
But he also stated that he has no idea as to why they are filling the place.
“Well, it’s not in my purview to talk or tell you why we are doing this backfilling or under whose instruction,” said Mr. Dyuodeh.
“I am just the chief security here and so the best person to talk to will be Williams. I can give you his number because as we [speak] here now, he is the person that is calling me,’’ he concluded.
But when contacted, Mr. Williams declined to speak on grounds that he has to make some calls.
He promised to get back to journalists on the matter later. He however refused to answer follow-up calls, nor did he respond to text messages.
Speaking in an interview with journalists at the scene, Mrs. Danise Love Dennis-Dodoo described the continued backfilling of the wetland by East International as scary and worrisome.
She said Liberia is gradually losing a valuable international asset.
According to her, East International applied for an environmental permit last year to construct a 2.0 km access road in the wetlands from the – Fengshou Rock Quarry to the RIA main road.
But she said the EPA, after a pre-assessment of the project’s feasibility, denied the project.
“The company continues to exhibit a defiant posture by backfilling the wetland to build the road despite the EPA’s refusal,” she told journalists.
She warned that unauthorized backfilling of the wetland is a violation of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia (EPML).