The way is being paved for dredging to begin as the Port Modernization Project enters another phase and negotiations between government and Canadian contractors AECON draw nearer to an end.
“It seems as though we are coming to a conclusion,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said on WE FM last Sunday.
Negotiations had been ongoing between both parties relating to AECON’s bid to conduct dredging in waters of to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Speaking on the Issue at Hand programme on Sunday, April 2, Gonsalves said that the Canadian company has “agreed to pay $20 million for the material”.
He also disclosed that initially, AECON was offering only $1 million for material to be dredged from the waters of SVG.
This new figure was arrived at, after intense negotiations between the government and AECON.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister had stated firmly that no permission had been granted for AECON to conduct the said dredging after information was circulated that permission had been granted for dredging to take place off Argyle.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister said at that time, he was not satisfied that AECON was dealing with the environmental and livelihood matters well enough.
However, things began to change in March this year, when AECON’s Senior Vice President, Marty Harris visited St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said that Harris was involved in a high level meeting on Thursday March 9.
“We had a long discussion and as a consequence of that discussion…we put forward certain proposals to them.” In addition to these discussions, there was also written communication between the government and AECON between the period March 15 to March 31.
Based on communication received on March 28, Gonsalves said AECON had “improved their situation in respect of all the issues at hand”.
As part of the agreement, the Canadian company has agreed to conduct a bathymetric survey on the area, two weeks before any dredging activity takes place.
This was part of government’s request to the company.
This bathymetric survey will provide information about the depth of the water where the dredging is to take place, as well as give a clear indication of the underwater features in that area.
Prior to this agreement, AECON was relying on inferences drawn from data collected nearby and at other places in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“We did not want to use proxi data, we wanted actual data,” the Prime Minister stressed.
Elaborating further Gonsalves explained that the bathymetric survey is very important in this exercise.
“We all agreed on this,” he added.
Additionally, government also wants independent, scientific confirmation and ongoing monitoring on this matter.
“We will also have independent monitors accompanying AECON’s personnel on the vessel when they are doing any dredging.”
Gonsalves explained as well that this close monitoring will be to ensure that “no dredging occurs in any vicinity where there is any coral, sea grass, or other sensitive marine biodiversity.”
The prime minister also expressed deep concern about the effect of the dredging on the livelihood of fishers in Calliaqua and Shipping Bay.
“There will be some loss of livelihood, so I need to give the fishermen some money, they have to have some compensation,” the Prime Minister pointed out.
He said the dredging will take about six weeks, now that understanding has been reached on the environmental issues.
He also assured that the dredging will not interfere with the sea floor.
Prior to any dredging, studies are also to be carried out in relation to wave action in the area.
The Prime Minister said this is to ensure that no wave action adversely affects the Argyle International Airport and the beach at Brighton.
On Sunday, Gonsalves further disclosed that a high level committee of public servants and other officials has already been formed as discussions relating to the dredging nears conclusion.
The last communication between both parties was via a letter dated March 31 from the Prime Minister to AECON.
Gonsalves also pointed out that some of the money received from AECON will be put into the Contingency Fund, while portions will be used to upgrade the fishing facility at Lowmans Bay and construct a fishing facility at Shipping Bay.
The material obtained through dredging off the south east coast, will be used in the ongoing Port Modernization Project.
Earlier this year, Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves had explained that as part of the port project, there will be a significant amount of land reclamation in the Kingstown/Rose Place area so that the material obtained through dredging will be placed along the coast in this area.
The fill material is to be removed from an area about 800 meters off the coast of Brighton and Argyle.
The dredging was originally scheduled to begin in March this year, but was halted, as AECON did not receive government’s permission to proceed with this action.
In February this year, the prime minister said he had not yet been persuaded to allow dredging in the area, and that everyone must be given a fair hearing in the matter.
And last Sunday, he underscored the point that “we are serious people about our environment and about the value of our resources”.
He added that government is also serious about the livelihood of our people.”