The streets of Hastings, Worthing and surrounding districts could be largely free of their troubles linked to the ailing South Coast Sewerage Project by December, Barbados Water Authority General Manager Keithroy Halliday has said.
But senior members of the professional engineering community remain yet to be convinced that the crisis is nearing an end despite a Prime Ministerial declaration of priority.
The BWA has reached the “stage where we can announce to all Barbadians where the problem has been satisfactorily addressed”, he said in a cautiously optimistic update on the long running crisis on Voice of Barbados’ Down to Brass Tacks Sunday programme.
Last month, Halliday and Minister of Energy and Water Resources Wilfred Abraham announced that injection wells sunk at a cost of $3.7 million had failed to trap sufficient excess sewage, requiring an extra $2.4 million for a short-term fix.
“Since then the authority was encouraged by the progress that has been made to rectify the problem,” Halliday said.
He disclosed that the BWA was able to confirm that the lines can be fixed while assessing the use of new trenchless technology estimated to cost a further $3 million.
He explained that the first main, which takes the treated effluent out to the outfall, has a tear along the length of the pipe but that would soon be fixed.
“Our team is quite optimistic that we should be able to get this first main repaired within a matter of weeks and once we do then we can close the access points,” he told the programme.
Halliday added that a solution has been found to fix the sanitary line, which he however noted would be a bit “trickier” and costlier.
“We need approximately seven pieces of equipment to be lifted or shipped in to Barbados, and that is what will determine how quickly our repairs are done. I am estimating right now that we are looking at a total of maybe two months maximum to get this all in hand.
The BWA head however noted that several significant challenges remained to flushing and clearing the sewer lines.
“The lines were filled with faults, they were filled with all sorts of extraneous material and this has brought us to a point based on our last press conference that we do need to challenge the Barbadian public, the citizenry to develop that level of conscientiousness that says we all play a part in the maintenance of these lines by everything we do whether casually, indifferently or otherwise affects the way these lines are to be maintained,” he said.
But the President of the Barbados Association of Professional Engineers (BAPE) Lieutenant Colonel Trevor Browne, who was joined on the programme by leading engineer Andrew Hutchinson lamented the lack of headway made since the end of May when Prime Minister Mia Mottley led members of her ministerial team and experts on a tour of the South Coast.
Hutchinson expressed disappointment that some of the mitigation measures proposed in a Cabinet Paper to tackle the problem were still not implemented.
“I am disappointed because in the three months that elapsed we could have made real progress…. I felt the implementation could have been probably better,” he said.
The engineer said he was still not happy about the lack of progress on the design of a new outfall.
“If I remember correctly that was needed because of the failure of the wells, that was your best relief option… and you won’t have to throw everything back into the Graeme Hall Swamp. I am also disappointed that we have not initiated measures to flush the swamp” located by the sluice gate across Highway 7, just east of Worthing Beach.
Lt. Col Browne said BAPE was extremely concerned about the slow process being made about the problem, which was declared a national crisis by the Prime Minister. “This is not how you deal with a crisis…. I think the point being missed is the urgency of the situation,” he said.
“In June this was laid out as a crisis by no less a person than our Prime Minister and here we are in September saying hopefully we are implementing some new technology that nobody knows anything about in the coming weeks and months. We are very, very concerned about this,” the BAPE president said.
In response, the BWA boss assured that the construction of the outfall would begin in earnest noting that a contract was signed with the consultant last week.
“We are at point where we should be able to proceed and bear in mind that an outfall will cost us 30 to 40 million, so these are not things to be trifled with…. It takes time when [you’re] dealing with these significant funds.
Halliday further revealed that the sluice gate at Worthing was repaired and the cleaning of the swamp had started.
“The flushing of the swamps – we have to watch how we do that. Flushing the swamp actually involves the construction of wells to have spring water coming out to flush the swamp, it can only happen properly if sewage is not coming into the swamp. As it stands right now sewage is still coming into the swamp,” he said while assuring that the problem was being fixed.
Browne emphasized that there was no getting around what he called a huge, technical, complex and dirty crisis.
“Any solution is going to be expensive, disruptive and it is going to be lengthy,” he said blaming the ongoing problem on poor structural management systems.
But the BWA boss acknowledged that while progress may have been slow, the authority had to exercise a degree of caution given the technical issues involved coupled with a lack of financial resources.
“You cannot move forward unless the funds are there and Government has been working with us to ensure we get the funds as best as we can. But at the end of the day, there is nothing in the coffers and nothing in central Government,” Halliday said.
The state-owned water and sewerage company is hopeful that there would be some ease once the IMF Executive Board approves the US$290 million Staff level agreement announced last Friday and the country receives additional funding from the Caribbean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, said the general manager.