Biosafe Treatment and Septic Solutions, led by Managing Director Patrick Mitchell explains what work will be done with the nearly $512,000 contract awarded this week for work on the Long Swamp section of the East End/Long Look Sewerage Project. (Screenshot: GIS)

New work is set to get under way soon on the Long Swamp section of the East End/Long Look Sewerage Project, one of the new government’s first steps in delivering on decades-long attempts to provide the area with sewage services through the Paraquita Bay treatment plant.

Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer said on June 27 during a contract-signing ceremony that a planned new pump station in Long Swamp is a major step in the long-delayed project.

“You will soon see actual works on the ground as we kick off the major work for this critical project,” said Mr. Rymer, who previously promised in 2020 to complete the East End sewerage system in 2021. “Based on all project projections and barring any unforeseen issues, we expect that the commissioning of the East End/Long Look sewage network will take place in 2024.”

Biosafe Treatment and Septic Solutions, led by Managing Director Patrick Mitchell, received the contract for $511,786.97 to build the pump station.

The contracted work will tie into work already done in the Long Look area, and this station will be “one of the main connecting points to facilitate the operation of the wastewater treatment plant at Paraquita Bay,” Ministry of Communications and Works Permanent Secretary Elvia Smith-Maduro said.

This section of the project includes the construction of inspection chambers and wet wells, as well as the procurement and installation of pumps and mechanical components for the Long Swamp Pump Station, she said.

Ms. Smith-Maduro added that this work is a “major and critical component” of the project that she said restarted in 2007.

“Along the way, there have been a few stops and starts,” she said.

Decades of delays

The East End/Long Look Sewerage Project aims to give the village its first public sewer system by connecting it to a treatment plant in Paraquita Bay that was built about eight years ago but has never been used.

The project is part of larger plans for a national sewage system that date back at least to 1974, but that were hampered by decades of delays that 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 company 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 near Road Town started processing sewage in late 2015, though it stopped operating following Hurricane Irma.

However, the Paraquita Bay plant, which was completed around the same time as the Road Town one, has never been used: Despite patchy progress over the past decade, successive governments never completed the pipe network and other infrastructure to connect the plant 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 pier park project.

‘Clear intent’

Mr. Rymer said on June 27 that this week’s contract signing “signals the clear intent by the government of the Virgin Islands to complete the East End/Long Look Sewage Project.”

“I know much has been said about the progress of works on the East End/Long Look Sewage Project, but a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to get us to this signing ceremony today in terms of completing the designs and tender documents,” Mr. Rymer said.

Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said on June 27 that his administration, which took office in April, inherited a substandard infrastructure system but it is determined to make significant improvements. He also promised progress on the road system.

The premier also pledged to extend the sewage lines to Beef Island.

Mr. Rymer noted “significant delays” during the tendering process that began in July 2022, which he attributed to issues with initial bidders being “nonresponsive.”

“Today, I am happy that we can get this major component of the project signed, and I am pleased that in short order, we shall be back to sign another major contract for the repair of the Paraquita Bay wastewater treatment plant and the construction of a sludge treatment facility,” he said.

Mr. Rymer added that the tender for gravity and pumping lines going from Parham Town to Long Swamp will be coming in the next few weeks. In July, another contract should be signed for additional manholes and wet wells, he added.

He requested the public’s patience during the construction.

After the signing, Mr. Mitchell called for community education on issues like keeping garage oil, restaurant grease and harsh laundromat cleaning agents out of the sewerage system.