The government and the Canadian firm contracted to build the EC$600 million port in Kingstown is “close to the end game” on an agreement to dredge sand offshore Argyle International Airport (AIA).
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said his government and Aecon had moved closer to a deal that would allow the company to dredge 1.2 million cubic metres of material from the seabed near AIA.
He, however, said 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.
“The bathymetric study has been completed of the particular area and where Aecon wants to take the material, the sand, the fill material,” Gonsalves told a press conference on Thursday.
“And the subcommittee of Cabinet with all of the technical persons have met. As a consequence of the results from the bathymetric study and other technical analyses and they have recommended a conclusion, a finalising of the agreement between ourselves and Aecon,” the prime minister said.
“They have sent all the relative data which have been gathered to the planning authorities, the Physical Planning authorities. I am hoping I get a draft copy of that agreement sometime before the end of today so that Cabinet can have a preview of it and to say whether we approve the terms of it in the manner in which it is drafted so that we can get the particular matter forward and behind us and get one with what we are agreeing upon,” the prime minister further stated.
“We are getting close to the end game, so to speak. So, I thought I just mention that in terms of the agreement,” 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 on radio on April 2 that “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”.
He 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 offshore 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.
He said Aecon later 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.
He further said that the company had agreed to pay EC$20 million for the material, adding that while he had not disclosed their initial order before, it was actually EC$1 million.