The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week Saturday, 23 October 2021 destroyed several structures illegally built in wetlands along the SKD Boulevard, Congo Town and Marshall in Margibi County.
According to a press statement from EPA, the exercise, which was carried-out in collaboration with line ministries and agencies including the Liberian National Police (LNP) follows several months of engagements and a lawsuit against entities and individuals erecting structures in wetlands in violation of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia (EMPL).
“In a ‘halt order and citation’ released February 25, 2021, the Government of Liberia asked individuals, firms and residents undertaking projects within and along the wetland around the Police Academy to remove all existing structures within 30 days or face demolition by the government”, the release said.
The EPA said it would also impose administrative and regulatory sanctions against individuals, firms and residents currently undertaking projects within and along the wetland around the Police Academy Junction area in Paynesville City.
“At the time, EPA Executive Director, Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh said unsustainable and unauthorized backfilling of the wetland; blocking of waterways; discharge of wastewater and sewages into the wetland and water courses around the Police Academy Junction along the SKD Boulevard are compromising the ecological integrity of the Montserrado Wetland”, the release stated.
But, individuals, firms and residents remain defiant, thus leaving the EPA with no option but to bulldoze structures built in the wetlands in violation of the law.
“They have been ignoring numerous warnings from the EPA, so we thought to move here early this morning to have the area clear,” Isaiah Kamara Paye, EPA Inspector General said.
IG Paye said: “we cannot allow these things to be happening because we will be in violation of international laws which our country is signatory to.”
The SKD Boulevard wetland is designated as a Ramsar site under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance of which Liberia is a signatory.
Speaking to reporters at the demolition exercise, EPA Deputy Executive Director, Randall M. Dobayou, said the integrity of the Mesurado Wetlands is being abused by unapproved erecting of structures contrary to the zoning regulation and the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia.
According to him, the continuous degradation of the mangrove ecosystem, and the illegal dumping of garbage can no longer be accepted by the EPA.
“The mangrove serves a lot of important purposes to our sustenance as a people. It serves as a filter for groundwater, a breeding ground for fishes, and it helps against flooding by absorbing the water,” Dobayou said.
According to him, there is a prohibition under both international and national laws against encroaching on wetlands and destruction of mangroves and other protected species necessary for the conservation of biological diversity.
Despite strong pieces of evidence of the violation of the EPML, the EPA sought a court warrant to demolish structures erected in the wetlands.
“Though we know that those people are in blatant violation of the law, we still did not wake up and come on our own, which we are at liberty to do because the laws give us that right, but we still had to seek permission from the court to act. This means that we are working in the confines of the laws of the land,” Dobayou explained
Meanwhile, the demolition exercise encountered a brief skirmish, as some disgruntled residents set roadblocks on the main SKD Boulevard thus obstructing the normal flow of traffic in the early morning hours.
Armed Police Officers enforcing the exercise rapidly put the situation under control and dislodged the protesters.
The EPA is the principal authority for the management of the environment and the sustainable use of its resources. It is empowered under section 75 of the EPML to prescribe measures for the protection of wetlands. The actions of those individuals to construct in the wetlands contravene Section 75 Count 2 of the Act that created the Agency, the release concluded.