The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Aecon, the Canadian company contracted to construct the EC$600 million port in Kingstown, have moved closer to a deal that would allow the company to dredge 1.2 million cubic metres of material from the seabed near Argyle International Airport (AIA).
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on WE FM that the company is now offering to pay EC$20 million for the material, adding that the initial, undisclosed offer, was EC$1 million.
He further said that the final approval would depend on the findings of a bathymetric survey of the area proposed for dredging, rather than using proxy data as Aecon had initially suggested.
Additionally, the government would compensate fishers for loss of income during the six-week dredging period, Gonsalves said.
In February, the prime minister confirmed that Aecon had received Planning authorities’ permission to dredge offshore AIA to reclaim lands near the city.
“And there are lots of outstanding issues which have to be addressed,” Gonsalves said on NBC Radio on Feb. 1.
“I see some people say that the government has given them a permit. That’s not so. They got Planning permission, subject to certain conditions. The Planning Board doesn’t own the resource. The resource is owned by the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said.
Journalist and social commentator Jomo Thomas broke the story, writing in his “Plain Talk” column on Jan. 27, that the permit allows Aecon to dredge 1.17 million cubic metres of sand from an area 820 yards south of and 550 yards out from AIA.
But Gonsalves said “there has to be appropriate negotiations with those things and with all the conditions attached thereto, some of them, which are put forward by Planning”.
Speaking on WE FM, on Sunday, Gonsalves noted that he had initially said that the government was not satisfied with Aecon in the way in which it was addressing “the whole bundle of issues” concerning the possible dredging off AIA, including its handling of environmental issues.
The prime minister said that because of the issues, Marty Harris, senior vice president of Aecon, out of Canada, came to St. Vincent and they had a meeting which also included senior government officials on March 9.
“We had a long discussion, and as a consequence of that discussion, I listened very carefully to Mr. Marty Harris, and we put forward certain propositions to them,” Gonsalves said.
He said that as a result, Aecon wrote the government on March 15, “which showed some progress” and he responded on March 22, “outlining our acceptance of aspects of what they were suggesting, but pointing out areas which required more work on their part”.
The prime minister said that Harris responded on March 28.
“And on the 28th, they came around to — they improved their situation both in respect of the policy issues at hand and on the 31st of March,” Gonsalves said.
“I wrote them a letter indicating to them that their letter of the 28th contained overall a reasonable basis upon which the government and the company can finally and satisfactorily conclude all the requisite arrangements on the subject matter at hand.”
He said Aecon has sent a letter agreeing that they will conduct a multibeam bathymetric survey of the area to be dredged at least two weeks prior to the commencement of any dredging activity.
Gonsalves said that Aecon had previously relied on statistical inferences based on data collected nearby and at other places in St. Vincent and Grenadines, rather than at the exact site proposed for dredging.
“In other words, we didn’t want to use proxy data. We wanted actual data. So, this bathymetric survey is very important in this exercise, and we are all agreed on this and … and we would want to have independent scientific confirmation on this particular matter, and ongoing monitoring, if we come to all the other agreements,” Gonsalves said.
“… as I said, we have a basis on which we can have those agreements,” he said, emphasising that the bathymetric survey is an important matter.
“… and once that is satisfactory, with independent scientific affirmation, that we will also have independent monitors accompany Aecon personnel on any vessel where they’re doing the dredging so that no dredging occurs in any vicinity where there’s any coral, seagrass or other sensitive marine biodiversity”.
He said that advice from “our people” and from the fisherfolk is that it does not appear that the area to be dredged is a major fishing ground.
“But there’s certainly transient fishing at the very least, but still there will be some loss of livelihoods. So, I need to give the fishermen some money. They have to have some compensation during the period of the dredging which will take maybe six weeks,’ Gonsalves said, adding that his government is very concerned about the impact on fishers in Calliaqua and Shipping Bay.
He said that in addition to the cost of the material, the government is very concerned about making sure that the fisher folk from Calliaqua and Shipping Bay that though all the advice we have received from our people, and when the fisherfolk they were taking there, that it does not appear as though it’s a major fishing ground.
He said there are various estimates, ranging from two to four years and beyond, of how long the area would take to regenerate, if the dredging takes place.
“But the point is this, the material which is coming off the top. There’s a bank there. So, you’re not going down to the bottom of the sea, so to speak,” Gonsalves said, adding that photographic evidence has shown that there is no coral or sea grass in the area.
Gonsalves noted that the proposed dredging site is close to AIA.
“I say I want the study of the actual area itself because we have a $1.4 billion airport there. And I want to be sure that there’s no wave action, which is going to affect our revetments out there. And similarly, down at Brighton Beach. So, the bathymetric study would be done; that survey will be done,” he said.
The prime minister said the bathymetric study is likely to take two weeks.
“… we have named a committee of government representatives for the finalisation discussions,” he said, mentioning, “the monitoring, the independent scientific affirmation of the matters related to the survey, and then, how the payments are going to be made.
“It is important for us to realize this material, which is going to be used, is not somebody taking it and taking it somewhere else. it is going to be used in our own project,” Gonsalves said.
“It’s important too that we don’t have delays on the port project. Because if they had to go elsewhere and source the material, which they had intended to … I also don’t want the project to be delayed, because a delayed project is going to cost more money. And I don’t want us to have to dip into the contingencies on the project.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Aecon was offering EC$10 million it is actually EC$20 million