Government plans to award at least 40 petty contracts worth $6,142,500 to restart and complete the long-delayed East End/Long Look sewerage project, Premier Andrew Fahie announced during a re-commissioning ceremony on Friday.
The project, which has been on and off in various forms for decades, is designed to give the village its first public sewer system by connecting it to a treatment plant in Paraquita Bay that was built about five years ago but has never been used.
“Research has shown that this project is even older than I am,”Transportation, Works and Utilities Minister Kye Rymer said during the Friday ceremony, describing the initiative as a “pivotal step in remedying the sewerage woes that have plagued this community for decades.”
The project, he added, is expected to be complete within 12 months.
“Today’s ceremony ushers in a new era of a cleaner and healthier environment for the people in the community of these parts of the island,” he said.
The premier defended the plan to split the project among so many contracts, saying recent legislation passed in the House of Assembly has provided for this procedure in an emergency situation.
“In the middle of the Covid- 19, we recognised that we had to do some adjustments and amendments to the laws and the regulations, so we created a new policy that during pandemics, during emergencies, during disasters, during catastrophic events, that you can allow for these to happen, providing that there’s going to be strict project management and some strict vigilance over the project, so that we could be accountable,” he said.
He urged contractors to register their interest with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transportation, Works and Utilities.
For decades, the auditor general and international experts have criticised successive VI governments’ tendency to split large projects into petty contracts under $100,000, which do not have to be tendered or approved by Cabinet. This practice, auditors explained, often leads to a lack of sufficient oversight, planning and coordination among contractors — thus producing subpar and inconsistent results.
Mr. Rymer explained Friday that the project will take place in three phases.
Phase one will consist of preliminary works, including clearing a staging area and procuring equipment, as well as conducting an assessment to “obtain specific data as to the type of waste generated,” he said.
This research, he explained, will include assessing “household demands based on the number of bathrooms and the most suitable location for connection to the public sewerage system, among other requirements.”
The ministry, he added, will solicit public feedback during this phase.
Phase two will see gravity lines, pumping mains, house lateral pipe lanes, manholes and pump stations installed between Parham Town and Paraquita Bay, according to the minister.
Phase three will include re- pairing the outfall lines at Brandywine Bay, as well as commissioning the wastewater treatment plant and sludge drying beds in Paraquita Bay.
Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley (R-D7) applauded the recommissioning of the long-delayed project, which he said will finally attack a longstanding health and safety issue in his district.
The existing system “can’t handle the population of people that we have here,” he said, adding that children have been “stepping over sewerage water.”
Plans for a national sewage system date back at least to 1974, and a series of delays over the subsequent decades cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars due to scrapped plans and subpar work that had to be restarted numerous times.
In 2010, the Virgin Islands Party-led government awarded a no-bid contract to the United Kingdom-based Biwater, which resulted in Biwater’s completion of a water plant and two sewerage treatment plants: one at Burt Point and one in Paraquita Bay.
The Burt Point facility started processing sewage in late 2015. However, the Paraquita Bay plant, which was completed around the same time, has never been used because government has not yet laid the pipes to connect it to East End, mainly due to a lack of funding. At least twice, the government transferred money away from the EE/LL project to another purpose: first to the new Dr. Orlando Smith Hospital and then to the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park project.
The then-National Democratic Party government restarted work once again in 2017, but damage from Hurricane Irma dashed hopes for its completion.
‘Money is there’
In Mr. Fahie’s remarks on Friday, he blamed the previous government for diverting the funds.
“The money is there,” he said, explaining that $4 million of the total $6.1 million was available in the form of “grant allocations.”
“Yes, we saw that $8 million float right down to the cruise ship pier, and yes, they paid back some, but they never paid it back to the project,” he said. “It went elsewhere; it did not come back to you, the people of East End/Long Look.”
His government, he said, is turning over a new leaf.
“We went in and we told them, ‘No: not this time. Give us some money to start back this project; you had it long enough.’ We went there, we demanded the money and brought it over and put it into the East End/Long Look sewerage project: $3 million of it,” he said.
He added that he then got “an extra million” from the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission. Mr. Fahie had previously announced in June that TRC royalties would be allocated for the project.
The remaining $2 million for the project “will be budgeted for,” he said Friday, without going into detail.