I listened to an extensive video report published by iWitness News, on the port project and the dredging of fill material from the bay outside of the airport runway.
A few things that were said — mainly by the engineer assigned to the project — jumped out at me.
For one, we were told that local dredging for fill material to reclaim the land was always listed as an option. We checked several of the disclosed documents and we will quote from and refer to them in some of the responses that will follow here.
The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) that is providing funding for this project in loan and grant, states that it is a requirement for the government to submit an ESIA (environmental and social impact assessment), as a well as an EMP (environmental management plan). The CDB refers to these two documents in its loan appraisal. Both documents were published together by the SVG Port Authority in 2019, for this project.
The final ESIA that is currently available to the public states several things regarding fill material. Since building a port in that area is the option chosen by the government, the ESIA listed two things as disadvantages of this choice: “Dredging and reclamation are required… Requirement for substantial volumes of (imported) reclamation material”. As will see later, dredging here refers to dredging the harbour to make it a deep-water harbour, and dredging for maintenance. In fact, it refers to this as minimal dredging, which would result in less than 20,000 cubic meters of materials. This material will also add to the reclamation. The harbour must be dredged to accommodate the size of vessels that are expected.
The ESIA also says this: “The source of material required to fill in the site has not yet been decided on. Therefore, the quality of material (dredged material or from quarries) is also not known.” This is listed under the section titled “Dredging and Reclamation Impacts.” Again, it is clear in this section of the report that this is referring to dredging of the bay itself to create a deep harbour.
In another section it says:” Public/community health and safety will also be a concern in the area(s) where the raw
material for reclamation will be obtained. It is possible that the material will be quarried in SVG or imported if the quantity of required material is not available locally. If the material is obtained from SVG, then the community in the vicinity of quarrying operations will experience a greater risk of health effects from dust and vehicular accidents.”
The loan appraisal document, disclosed by the CDB, also mention nothing about dredging for fill material. However, like the ESIA, it mentions two other reasons for dredging. One is to dredge to deepen the harbour, and the other is to dredge to remove the build-up of material deposited in the area, caused by the current that runs parallel to the port. As the current flows along the bay, it causes deposits of material at one end of the port, and it erodes it at the other end. That, according to the report, needs to be maintained by dredging.
Specifically, the appraisal document says this: “The land reclamation process will result in the loss of soft bottom flora and fauna due to the 640,000 m³ of fill required for this activity … local quarries have been deemed inadequate to supply such an amount, and therefore the fill will have to be imported. The contractor will decide on the source and quality of fill. A permit for the importation is required, and on entry, the material will be screened by the public health.”
It also states this: “Land reclamation: In order to build the port, approximately 5 ha of land is required to provide the appropriate berthing facilities. It is estimated that some 640,000 m³ of fill will be needed for the construction. The fill will be sourced from overseas.”
That’s two different areas within the same appraisal report, which specifically mentioned importation. Why would it not address dredging for fill material, if indeed that was listed somewhere as an option? Furthermore, how come it states 640,000 cubic meters of fill material, while local media is quoting local authorities as saying it is 1.17 or 1.2 million cubic meters? Was this another error in estimation? How was the amount determined, while the appraisal report is stating: “The results from the topographic and the bathymetric surveys were used to accurately position the new port infrastructure and to estimate the quantity of reclamation material required”? Was this based on quarry material, which might have been coarser, resulting in a lesser amount to fill the same volume?
In addition to all that, the EMP is supposed to address mitigation strategies for dealing with the risks that were identified in the ESIA. Remember these two documents were produced for this project and disclosed together, by the SVG Port Authority. Here is what is stated in the EMP: “screening of imported quarry/fill material and construction equipment to ensure invasive species are not introduced to the local ecosystem”. Consistent with the CDB appraisal document, this screening is to be conducted by the Ministry of Health, throughout the reclamation process.
Why would the EMP not address any risk associated with significant dredging for fill material? What really was the plan? Why would the appraisal not address this sort of dredging, in the same manner it addressed the importation?
On the question of cost savings: when persons like Jomo Thomas ask about the cost savings of locally-sourced fill material from dredging versus the obvious planned importation, the question is a valid one; though the engineer attempted to minimise it by suggesting that importation from Barbados (not Suriname) by barge wouldn’t have necessarily been more expensive than local dredging. That was his intention when he asked Kenton Chance: “…you know how much it costs to have one of those ships?” He was referring to the vessel that is being used to dredge, transport, and deposit the material.
Anyone who works in project management knows that time is money. If you must barge material from 100 miles away in Barbados, it’s obvious that even if the material itself is cheaper, the risk to the project’s timely completion is greater. If you were to quantify this risk (delays, cost overruns, inflation, etc.), it more than likely will result in a higher overall cost than locally dredging and filling using the same vessel. The distance from the dredging site to the port construction area is less than 10 miles. Furthermore, another iWitness News story quoted Prime Minister Gonsalves as saying, “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.”
The point is: I happen to agree with Jomo when he asked about the cost savings. According the appraisal report of the CDB: “a Grant to GOSVG from CDB’s United Kingdom Caribbean Infrastructure Partnership Fund (UKCIF) resources of an amount not exceeding twenty five million, five hundred and seventy six thousand pounds sterling (£25,576,000) [equivalent to approximately US$32,482,000], representing 17% of Project costs to assist with the cost of dredging and reclamation works as well as the construction of the main quay wall”.
What becomes of this grant now that the fill material is being sourced locally, while at the same time, the government is being paid EC$20 million for the material? How is this reconciled? Again, (cost of) dredging here refers to dredging to deepen the harbour and for maintenance of build-up material in the area.
Another thing we heard in that interview is that sand banks/barriers do not affect wave action; that “waves don’t operate like we minds does operate sometimes and come in and say, ‘Ah see a sand bar there, so let me jump up higher then ah calm down meself’”. This was an attempt to dismiss the point that Andrew Simmons has been making about the existence of such in the area. Without having the scientific evidence to forcefully challenge this, I will instead just ask a couple probing questions.
Now, if you think of Owia Salt Pond and Brighton Salt Pond, while the “barriers” in those two areas are not sand, do the waves in those areas see those natural breakwater barriers and decide not to jump over them? Is that why persons can swim safely in what would have almost been impossible areas to swim? Take even the depositing of the same dredged material into the reclaimed area for the port construction. Are we to believe that as sand is being dumped in that area, that it is resulting in no effect at all on the waves in that area, though waves in that area are usually much calmer? Also, why is it that we have not seen the same kind of damage in this southeast area from storm surges and wave action, like we’ve seen in the further north windward area, which now require sea defences? Why is that? How is it that people are now able to swim safely at Rawacou, after a breakwater was installed? Why was a breakwater installed in Owia, as part of the fisheries complex construction, to allow fishing boats to dock easier? Are the waves seeing these and deciding not to jump over them?
If the survey didn’t show any such sand bank or bar in the area, what survey was this? Is this the same survey that told the CDB that the amount of material needed is 640,000 cubic meters, while local authorities are stating 1.2 million?
Would a natural sand bank or barrier or the level/amount of sand — under water — not have somewhat of a similar effect as a breakwater in calming the waves before they come ashore? Again, in the absence of the scientific proof of the existence of a sand bank/bar or whatever it is called, and in the absence of the scientific evidence of the impact of the level of sand underwater has on wave action, I will believe Andrew on this one. He said it’s an area they visited all the time as children growing up in the area. I have no reason to doubt him.
As usual, we encourage you to pay attention to your affairs.
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