Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, and Toshiba Water Solutions America representative Raj Kushwaha sign two contracts last week. (Photo: GIS)

As part of efforts to tackle a decades-long struggle with wastewater treatment, government signed two contracts worth $5.9 million last week: one to manage and operate the wastewater treatment plant in Paraquita Bay for seven years; and the other to design and construct a sludge treatment facility for the plant over the course of 15 months.

During the Oct. 11 signing ceremony, both contracts went to Toshiba Water Solutions America.

“This is a very important project for us, and we believe that we will do a good job,” said Raj Kushwaha, president of the Caribbean and Central and South American region for Toshiba. “In the first quarter of 2025, we will have a functional Paraquita wastewater treatment plant and a functional sludge treatment facility.”

Officials didn’t provide a breakdown of each contract’s cost, and Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Project history

The wastewater treatment plant was originally erected by the United Kingdom-based company Biwater about eight years ago, but it was never commissioned — in large part because government didn’t finish laying the pipes to connect it to houses and businesses in East End.

But during the contract-signing ceremony last week, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said pipes have now been laid.

“Once [the sludge facility] is completed, we should be in a position where the portions [from Long Swamp to Paraquita Bay] can come online,” Dr. Wheatley said. “That will be a very historic day, especially for the people in my community of the Seventh District, who have been plagued with wastewater in the streets for many, many, many years — even decades.”

Longstanding delays

The ongoing project is part of larger plans for a national sewage system that date back at least to 1974 but were hampered by delays that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars due to scrapped plans and subpar work that had to be restarted numerous times.

During a House of Assembly meeting in February, Mr. Rymer, who was deputy premier at the time, promised a completed East End sewage system by the end of this year.

At the time, he also explained the sludge facility, which he said would treat excess waste removed from the Paraquita Bay plant.

Mr. Rymer added that the sludge could be used as fertiliser for agricultural purposes.

His ministry, he said, was also planning the fabrication of a small incinerator to destroy any sludge that remains.

During the signing ceremony last week, Dr. Wheatley described “inherited” challenges he said his government is facing.
“Sewage has been a challenge in terms of how we’ve been treating it for the last two, three decades,” he said. “But, of course, this government is not a government to complain. It is not a government to pass the buck onto another administration. We believe in solving the challenges before us even though they are difficult challenges.”

Mr. Rymer said the territory has a “problem” with building facilities but not maintaining them.

“It’s critical that we put into the tender where [contractors] would be able to commission it, build it, maintain it, and operate it, and this operation should last about seven years,” he said. “We made sure that this was a component in the contract so we could build capacity locally and have our local [people] trained in the field.”

Management contract

Officials also said the seven-year operation contract will ensure support should the territory run into more challenges.

“We are looking at our long-term stay in the [Virgin Islands],” Mr. Kushwaha said. “At least with this contract, it gives us an opportunity to remain here for seven years.”