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Inflated $400M land claim
The National Infrastructure Development Company’s (Nidco) legal department is now reviewing a $400 million settlement claim from six owners who have surrendered properties for construction of the billion dollar Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to Point Fortin.
While Nidco chairman Herbert George agrees the owners have to be paid for the properties, he says his board has issues with the settlement figures “sky-rocketing.” In one claim, George said an owner requested $60 million for disturbance while his land is valued at $23 million.
“In recent times, we have been confronted with some very large settlements for properties along that highway. We have since queried it and referred it to our legal department,” George told the T&T Guardian in a telephone interview
George did not give the precise location of the six properties engaging their attention along the highway route, which starts from Golconda and ends at Dunlop Roundabout in Point Fortin.
He explained that once the state acquires an owner’s land a valuation is done, which the state would have in their possession.
However, he said “the acquisition of a property by the Government is such that once you serve the notice you could enter the property and start your work although the settlement is not finalised.” Once negotiations are finalised and agreed upon, George said the state would pay the owner for disturbance, cost of the property plus interest accrued. But this practice has created the existing problem.
“There is one property in particular. It was about five acres of land that we had to purchase. The cost of the property was about $23 million. The settlement that was sent to us to pay was of course the cost of the property $23 million. And those other things came up to a total of $83 million. That to us was a huge challenge,” George told the T&T Guardian.
“We are saying we are acquiring and we have to pay, but does it have to be so much? When you add the cost of the land to what was offered for disturbance...in that case disturbance was in the vicinity of $60 million, it was more than the cost of the land.”
George said the figure disturbed Nidco to the point where they referred it to their attorneys.
“We realised we had a problem and had to be guided because you see that has legal implications.”
Describing the settlement as “huge,” George said when they examined the figures of the six properties “it was eighty something million dollars…ninety something million dollars…sixty million. When you look at those six properties it was in the order of $400 million. It was just excessive. Those are some of the things we have been looking at in the interest of the taxpayer.”
George said Nidco’s board is now reviewing the matter.
“The board is confronted with request for payment. This board is not constrained to do something because the last board attempted to do it or say we should do it. We have to look at it and determine in our own mind and judgement that that is the reasonable thing to do.”
Work on the highway, which comprises 47 kilometres of four-lane dual carriageway, began in 2013 and was projected to cost $7.5 billion under the former People’s Partnership government.