PRESS RELEASE — Prime Minister Pierre, it has come to our attention that, once again, you have made some unfounded allegations on the desilting program of the John Compton Dam which commenced for the first time under the United Workers Party administration in 2020.
You said inter alia that the John Compton Dam desilting project was supposed to be completed, and that it has not been completed after spending so much money, and that the Opposition should account for this project.
Also, you intimated that an audit report has been commissioned on that project and very soon it will be made public after which you will have a conversation with the Opposition on the matter in light of the substantial sums expended on this project.
We understand that a foreign firm, Forensic Services Caribbean, based in Curacao N.A has been contracted at a substantial sum to do this audit, while this sum could be channeled by Wasco to perform urgent infrastructural works on the ground, and critically, to improve the water supply for the people of Saint Lucia.
We only hope that this report is accurate and provides true information that matches the information on file at Wasco, the NURC (National Utilities Regulatory Commission) and CDB (Caribbean Development Bank). The information which these agencies possess can challenge any wrong assumptions or inaccuracies.
Prime Minister, from the onset it certainly appears that you are misinformed on the whole raison d’etre of the John Compton desilting project which your administration had commissioned way back in 2013, but never implemented.
As you are aware the John Compton Dam was originally commissioned in 1995 with a storage capacity of 3 million cubic meters. On account of a lack of maintenance and three weather systems (Tropical Storm Debbie in 1994, Hurricane Tomas in 2011 and the Christmas Eve trough in 2013), the dam became heavily silted with approximately 1.5million cubic meters of silt. This is the equivalent of 50 football fields each filled high with 20ft of silt.
This, in-turn, has compromised water storage security for St Lucia as the silt has displaced almost 400 million gallons of water. The dam was built to hold almost 700 million gallons of water or a storage capacity of 3 months supply as about 8 million gallons is extracted daily for public consumption for residents living in the north of the country.
Moreso, the weather system in 2011 had compromised the lower extraction port of the dam which was blocked with silt from that time. This was a dangerous event as the only other upper extraction port could be compromised if water levels were to go below that port, which nearly occurred in 2019 during a severe drought period. At that time, Wasco had to scramble to look for alternative methods to extract water from the dam, but, thankfully the rains came in later in that year to replenish the dam.
From the above you will deduce that you cannot dredge the dam continuously in any one year as doing so would deplete it of water supplies. Hence, the dam can only be dredged during the short rainy months of June to November, weather permitting.
A suction dredge needs to extract 70% water and 30% silt and transport this slurry via pipeline above the dam to deposit it into the Sediment Disposal Area one mile downstream of the spillway of the dam. Once extracted the silt settles in the SDA and the water flows into the nearby river for extraction downstream through the Wasco pumping station in Vanard for treatment at the Theobalds plant at Ciceron and then distributed for consumption in the North.
The project was tendered under your previous administration in 2016 and on both occasions were unsuccessful. Our administration took over this project and found there were several misconceptions and misunderstandings by the SLP administration on this project. For example, the dam levy to fund the desilting operation was implemented and legislated for three years duration whereas the engineering model to desilt the dam was for a continuous period of 8 to 10 years of maintenance operation.
Hence, the dam desilting project which was implemented could never have been completed just in one initial phase. It is virtually impossible to desilt or extract 1.5 million cubic meters of silt in any one year. Only 100,000 to 150,000 cubic meters on average can be done based upon available resources and depending on weather conditions.
Your previous administration had secured the services of a Canadian company Golder and Associates as consultants for the project. These are the same consultants who recommended solutions to the desilting project and were retained by our administration to oversee and approve the desilting works.
Accordingly, two separate contracts were engaged; one to build the Sediment Disposal Area one mile downstream of the dam and another for the leasing services of a suction dredge to commence the desilting process to clear the lower port and extract just below 100,000 cubic meters of silt.
The sediment disposal area contract was tendered amongst local contractors and a local contractor was the lowest responsive bidder. Due to the specialized nature of the dredging works this was tendered regionally and internationally with funding secured from the Caribbean Development Bank. Vinci Construction Maritime et Fluvial, a subsidiary of the world’s second largest construction company Vinci Construction was the most successful bidder for the dredging works. During the construction of the Sediment disposal area your administration cast so many aspersions on the selection process of the engaged contractor who submitted the lowest bid to successfully complete the Sediment disposal Area. It seems ironic that your present administration has now engaged this same contractor to construct a wing wall on the spillway of the dam as he was the most successful bidder on this CDB construction funded project.
The National Utilities Regulatory Commission, a statutory body who are the regulators of Wasco, was kept informed of all developments and is aware of every single expense on both contract sums as they had capped the project sum for $60 million dollars. In fact, every disbursement had to be vetted by them before payment to the contractors. CDB no objection certificates were also obtained before payments could be made to the dredging contractor.
Moreover, the actual project cost fell below the NURC’s arbitrarily capped sum of $60 million dollars, which was done without engaging in any consultation with WASCO, contrary to basic regulatory principles, bearing in mind the levy is contained in the water rate which was approved through a legislated and largely consultative process.
Additionally, upon vacating office, there remained a substantial sum of undrawn funds in respect of the existing CDB loan for the desilting project. Full details can be sourced from WASCO and CDB.
Once these two components of the project were successfully completed in early 2021, Wasco commenced the process of making plans in mid-2021 to implement a maintenance program for the subsequent years and it was recommended that Wasco pursue the purchase of a suction dredge to continue the desilting process each year, as desilting is a continuous process over a period of time.
A soil dryer is still in possession of Wasco to be used to dry the soil in the likely event that the sediment disposal area is expanded or a new one built to hold additional silt deposited during any subsequent desilting operation. The continuous humid environment and soil conditions can create unnecessary delays and work stoppages with the desilting project and increase expenses for the company as was experienced in the first phase.
This is the same soil dryer you made some unfortunate and inaccurate comments about and when faced with the facts you apologized in Parliament, as you admitted to making a mistake. A change in administration in July 2021 should not result in the discontinuation of the desilting program.
In closing, your administration should move speedily to continue the maintenance and desilting process to minimize any further accumulation of silt in the dam which can occur at any time and specifically during adverse weather events. In this regard, the lower port should not be allowed to be blocked again, as there would be dire consequences in terms of water security for the nation.
At the closing ceremony for this phase of the desilting project, the CDB commended Wasco and the then Government of St Lucia for the successful completion of this highly technical and engineering works in this part of our hemisphere.
We sincerely trust that you are now better informed on the above project, and can obtain resources to continue the works in the ensuing years, to ensure that the citizens of Saint Lucia are indeed put first, and provided with the best possible water supply system.