Notwithstanding last week’s Kumbaya road trip by MPs from both the UWP and SLP, the situation at the Sir John Compton Dam has undoubtedly been compounded by their own ineptitudes. There has been inaction on both sides of the political fence where the Sir John Compton Dam is concerned, and for that matter, the nation’s water catchment areas and water itself.
The slogan “water is life” has been bandied around for some time now. However the politician has always touted himself as the lifegiver, smiling proudly when he or she opens a new public water source, standpipe or what used to be known as a “freeness.”
The problems with the silt at the dam were an issue long before Hurricane Tomas, as The STAR underscored last week. As with many things built in Sir John Compton’s name (think Millenium Highway), the dam has suffered much neglect over the years and now we are about to pay the price. A high one at that. The only solution is for the Government to bleed our pockets for more taxes, even after a more than sixty percent hike in water rates.
In the past, several attempts have been made by WASCO to go through a tendering process for the desilting. But for one reason or another, no one has been awarded that contract.
According to two sources The STAR spoke with last week, submissions were made to WASCO by private firms for the dredging of the dam way back in 2011.
“This was put on hold pending a study conducted by USAID in 2012,” one source says, adding: “Government then reportedly approved financing of EC$3.1 million to start the project towards the end of 2012. However that was never acted upon by the former WASCO bosses.”
In April of 2013, the National Water Commission approved a hike in water rates, with special provisions being made to allocate money for the desilting of the dam.
“However only the road to the dam was rehabiltated,” another STAR source revealed.
Last year, a new notice appeared in the newspapers for “consultancy to the desilting project,” folllowed by a tendering notice for “desilting.” This was followed by yet another indepth study of the dam by a German company and yet another tendering notice.
“In February 2014 there was a notice for yet another feasibility study and we are now wondering what is going on,” one contractor says.
“Something just seems amiss about this whole thing and WASCO.”
However, dredging expert Victor Hamlin, whose comments were featured in The STAR story on Saturday, April 19th, is reluctant to place all the blame squarely at WASCO’s feet.
“WASCO does not have control over their own money. The engineers at WASCO are not getting the tools they need. That is sad and it has been going on forever,” Hamlin says.
“But this is past WASCO. This in the hands of government ministers. WASCO can only issue small contracts of about EC$20,000. Any big contracts have to go through Government and that’s where the delays begin.”
Hamlin went on to express the view that WASCO does have a high level of technical workers within the company.
“They always had it, people who have gone all over the Caribbean creating water intakes and staff that is prepared to handle situations under tough circumstances. But who handles the money for these things? It is not WASCO: it is government. WASCO has always been put aside and not given the urgent attention it deserves, so the dam is suffering the same fate.”
Hamlin also thinks that local contractors have had many setbacks because of the information that was requested in the tendering process.
“I heard a particular minister say that local contractors are not capable. I say that’s a lot of baloney. If you are building a house, you hire a contractor and you specify what you want. WASCO never specified what they needed and that was left to the imagination of the people bidding.”
Since the water company never set proper parameters for contractors, the whole process was flawed, the dredging expert says.
Following the submission by the water commission, Hamlin feels that the problems with the dam should have been addressed immediately.
“WASCO should have started by looking at who is available locally, what sort of equipment those contractors have, as well as what are the sources of funding available to them,” he says.
Hamlin, who is now a consultant, excavated the boulders used to build the Sir John Compton Dam and helped in the drilling process. In recent years WASCO has utilized his skills as a diver at the dam to check on faults and valves.
Last week Hamlin told The STAR that there were silting problems at the dam that needed attention long before Tomas.
“We should have started dredging about four years after the dam was built,” he stated.
He described the Sir John Compton Dam as “special,” since it is built within an area where the water intake always produces silt.
“Five years after the dam was completed and was operational, we had already lost 25-30 percent of the volume of water. Since 2001-2002 we should have seen this coming,” he says.
He explained to The STAR that there are options open to WASCO when it comes to desilting, but he is urging government to consult with local contractors without further delay.
“We have contractors here with all the equipment, who have worked in other islands. The authorities need to speak to them. All the studies are there. The report from the water commission is there. We just have to act wisely and quickly.”