By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Jan. 27, 2023)
The ULP government has issued a permit to the company building the Kingstown port that may have severe environmental and economic consequences for St Vincent and the Grenadines. The permit allows Aecon Construction to dredge 1.17 million cubic metres of sand from an area 820 yards South of and 550 yards out from the Argyle International Airport.
Initially, the company planned to import the sand from Suriname. Aecon Construction affirms that all the sand will fill the area earmarked for the Kingstown port. Clearly, this amounts to an economic boon for the construction company. It will save on the purchase and transportation costs of the sand from Suriname. There needs to be a disclosure on how much money Aecon will pay to dredge this area. Somebody is getting very rich, and it’s not the people of SVG.
This decision does not bode well for our country. There have been no independent environmental, economic and other feasibility studies. The government is relying on the company’s “geophysical surveys”, which reveal that there are approximately 10 million cubic meters of sand in the area. The company claims that because of the relatively large area from which it intends to take sand, “we can reduce the depth of dredge and prevent coastal erosion”.
Bear this fact in mind. Our country built the $750 million Argyle International Airport at great sacrifice. Why risk disruptions so close to a project that costs more than 50% of our 2023 national budget?
But that’s not all of the risks and potential losses. Dredging presents a considerable risk and long-lasting adverse effects on the marine environment. It can damage and destroy fish spawning grounds. Dredging lowers the oxygen level on which fishes and other marine life depend for survival. Dredging makes river banks unstable. We bridged the Yamboo river to build our airport. Dredging can increase the risk of flooding. We know that sea defences have been built at Georgetown and Sandy Bay. Would the decision to dredge sand so close to our prized and expensive AIA be worth the risk and potential expense for more sea defences? Consequently, dredging need to be carried out carefully, aided only with the right dredgers and dredges.
Dr Andrew Simmons, ,a Vincentian environmentalist with over four decades of experience, expressed concern and alarm when told of the plan to dredge the area. Speaking on Voices radio programme last Monday night, Simmons noted that the government banned sand mining because the wave actions responsible for producing the sand stopped, thus causing beach erosion.
He said the government’s reliance on the Aecon construction’s “geophysical surveys” in allowing the permit was akin to “rats being allowed to guard cheese”.
Simmons, whose Food and Agricultural Organization contract was terminated in “mysterious circumstances” after he had been on the job for two weeks in 2009, disclosed that this area is some of “the most fragile environmental landmarks”, among them, the Milligan Cay Bird Sanctuary and Reserve for Migratory Birds established in 1945, the turtle laying beaches for endangered turtles at Stubbs, Brighton and Diamond, the last strand of a white mangrove swamp located on the Brighton Salt Pond beach and the Kings Hill Forest Reserve, which he claims is “technically dying” because of the absence of a bio-diversity corridor between the mountain and the coast that allow for a free flow of birds.
Dr. Simmons said: “The dredging of sand off the shore will destroy the fragile ecosystem- coral reefs, mangrove swamps, sea grass beds which are integral for coastal defence.” According to Dr Simmons, “dredging will destroy the fishing beds located east and west of the area designated for dredging. It can potentially completely wipe out the livelihood of fisher folks in Calliaqua.”
To quote Fidel Castro, we are not sure if those “sucking on the honeycomb of power” considered these facts. Or was butter more than enough to seal the deal? Our political class does not know money. When they say SVG is open for business, the Clansman opens a fire sale department.
Gonsalves and his clansmen are particularly reckless. They are prepared to run a bulldozer through our nation to showcase projects that barely impact the lives and livelihood of citizens.
With little or no regard for the environment and health of our people, the government leased 90 acres of land at Richmond to a foreign concern for a quarry operation. Under the guise of creating employment, they disregard all environmental and economic feasibility studies. Based on the sell-out lease arrangement, the owners of the quarry experience multiple orgasms as they bump and grind to the bank. Are those facilitating the giveaway of our resources getting something in return? They cannot be reckless and stupid.
What is clear is that our nation’s environmental health and economic development remain an afterthought. Seven years after the construction of the Argyle International Airport — which had a price tag of $750 million — we have plunged headlong into another debt whooper. The construction of the Kingstown port is estimated to cost $600 million. Its utility and feasibility are questionable at best. We export nothing in abundance. The projection for increased exports over the next 20 to 40 years is dismal to non-existent. Consequently, the decision to build the Kingstown port is recklessly wasteful.
Ominously though, those who point to these essential issues are labelled political foes of the governing party. Worse, they are criticised as anti-development and anti-national. If we continue on this senseless path, we will give away and destroy our country, convinced that we are developing it.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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