The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has given its strongest indication yet how it intends to deal with the south coast sewage mess should it win the next general election, due by the middle of this year.
And part of the strategy will be to shut down food businesses in the affected areas, according to BLP Leader Mia Mottley, who today unveiled a three-part plan to mitigate the crisis in the short-term.
“We feel strongly that if we were to be elected to Government tomorrow, Barbadians can have the confidence that within one week we will start to implement a number of plans to address this crisis,” Mottley told a news conference this morning at the parliamentary office of the Opposition Leader.
“We have to recognize it as a national crisis with those areas cordoned off with restricted access only. Food establishments within those areas would the temporarily closed.”
Mottley acknowledged that workers at those establishments would be affected, but promised that a BLP administration would pay their wages, arguing that there had been precedent for such payment.
“We recognize that people should not have to suffer because people have failed to take appropriate action for the resolution of a matter that was brought to their attention as far back as two and a half years ago,” the BLP leader said in apparent reference to an alarm which she raised in October 2015 regarding the south coast sewerage system, which she warned at the time was at crisis stage, and was posing a serious threat to the health of workers and residents.
Back then Mottley had referred to a report by biochemist and water quality research consultant Patricia Inniss who had suggested that the problems at the plant were contaminating the island’s last remaining wetland, the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary, that operations at the plant had collapsed and it had not been working for some time.
In addition to the closure of food businesses, Mottley also spoke of dealing with the tourism sector, particularly arrangements by the accommodation sector for visitors.
She suggested that hotels should make provision for their guests to stay at properties in unaffected areas of the island.
“We need to ensure that those visitors staying in affected areas who really don’t want to stay in there, that we work together as a family and ask them if they wish to stay elsewhere. What we don’t want is for people leaving Barbados with the clear understanding that we did not care what their experience as tourists was and that we were not prepared to reach out,” the Opposition Leader said.
Mottley also announced plans to purchase membrane bioreactor (MBR) units, the biological wastewater treatment systems that provide effluent discharge suitable for water reuse.
These, she said, would not only help treat the sewage on the south coast, but would later be used in a new sewage plant.
“These units would allow for treated water to emanate from the sewage. More importantly we would be able to use these units in a new treatment plant or at Bridgetown [sewage plant], which is overloaded according to recent reports,” she added, without revealing how much the plan would cost or where the money would come from.
In its latest attempt to end the vexing spill, the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) has begun drilling 300-foot wells through which pre-treated sewage will be discharged in order to facilitate the drainage of the network, so authorities can inspect and fix the breached sewer lines.
Mottley today suggested this could continue despite the newly announced BLP plan.
“The Government has said it is pursuing the deep injection wells. We hope that it works, we really do. In the event that it does not work and because there is division among the engineers, the way in which we manage a crisis as a Government is to have an alternative plan,” she stressed.
Earlier this week senior Lecturer in Management Science at the University of the West Indies Dr Dwayne Devonish quoted unnamed senior BWA officials as expressing the view that “you would have to shut down the south coast” in order to fix the sewage problem.
This after a senior water management official had made a stunning admission to Barbados TODAY back in January 2017 that the south coast and Bridgetown sewage systems were on the brink of a disastrous collapse.
The official, who had spoken on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject, had all but confirmed assertions by Mottley of faulty diffusers that had not been maintained in over seven years and that Government had ignored an offer from the Industrial Commercial Bank of China to finance rehabilitation of both systems, and to build one for the west coast.
“The Industrial Commercial Bank of China advanced a term sheet to fund the project in 2014. The Government did not act. The Ministry of Agriculture again advanced the project to Cabinet which was again approved in 2015 and this time agreed to phase the project with phase 1 being the rebuild of the south coast sewage plant and Bridgetown sewage plant. Again no action,” the upset management source had said.
“How can you be building hotels on the south coast and in Bridgetown when the entire Bridgetown and south coast sewage plants are outdated and dilapidated? These plants need urgent attention. These plants have to be taken to tertiary capacity,” he had said.