Multi-million $$ Tobago water park – No CEC, WASA permit yet
Tobago water park
Less than a month after the sod-turning ceremony for Tobago’s first theme-based park, Synergy Water Park (SWP), the company is yet to apply for a water extraction/well drilling permit or a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) for the multi-million-dollar project at Friendship Estate.
Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales and managing director of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Hayden Romano both confirmed to Guardian Media that they have not yet received any applications from the developer for the proposed project.
On June 9, the sod for SWP was turned at Friendship Estate by SWP representative and former national cyclist Michael Phillips, CEO of Sebro Construction and Maintenance Ltd, Melendy Sebro, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) deputy Chief Secretary Dr Faith B Yisrael and Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development Trevor James.
The project, which is a public/private partnership with Water Synergy Ltd, Sebro Construction and the THA, is scheduled to begin in the next two months with a delivery time of 18 months.
The water park will be built by Sebro Construction on ten acres of land via a leased agreement with the THA.
The project is expected to cost $350 million.
However, Sebro told Guardian Media on June 23, “They were still awaiting some documents” from the THA.
“We got approval for the majority of things already. We haven’t finalised our designs yet,” he said.
As such, he said seeking approvals was a bit premature at this stage. He said they were still calculating the volume of water that would be needed for the water park before they apply to WASA and EMA for approvals.
Sebro said a lot of investors had expressed an interest in the project, which was conceptualised under the last PNM-led THA administration and executed during current Chief Secretary Farley Augustine’s tenure.
As a PPP venture, Sebro said, he “applied for the land and sourced our funds for the project.”
Asked what concessions the THA had offered, Sebro said, “the land” comes with a 99-year lease.
Sebro, a licenced plumber, said his construction company has been around since 2011.
“We have been doing work for a very long time on the ground. We did a lot of work with THA as well.”
Last week, Phillips confirmed that business plans were prepared at the feasibility stage. During the construction phase, he said between 150 and 300 jobs will be created and after completion, there will be 70 to 90 permanent jobs.
The Sunday Guardian could not reach Chief Secretary Farley Augustine for comment last week. He did not respond to calls or WhatsApp messages sent to him.
EMA: Any project without environmental clearance a concern
In an interview, Romano said the EMA “has been trying to contact the principals in terms of this new project, so we can write to them to inform them that they will need a CEC. We have no idea what this project entails. The EMA does not have a CEC application for this project before it.”
He said any project without environmental clearance is cause for concern.
Romano said a CEC will be based on the number of people the water park will be catering to and whether they will have wastewater treatment facilities.
“So, those would be the designated facilities. But more than us, they definitely will need WASA’s approval. For a project like that, we would have expected at least an application. The law is very clear, you cannot start anything before you have approval,” he said.
If the contractor starts construction without an application, Romano said the project can be shut down by the EMA through the court.
“I would expect they would apply for a CEC before they commence construction.”
Having read in the print media that construction will begin in two months, Romano said the contractor should have already applied for the CEC, as an application can take several weeks to process.
Romano said significant environmental impacts can arise from a proposed project which requires a CEC.↔
Gonzales: Tobago facing a water deficit
Meanwhile, Minister Gonzales said while he supports developments and investments in T&T, the proposed project ought not to negatively impact the quality of life of citizens in Tobago.
“As minister, I have concerns given the current water supply and demand deficit on the island that the Government is currently grappling with. For any construction of a water park, which obviously will depend on water for its operations, it would cause some serious concern because it would impact the availability of water for all our customers in Tobago,” Gonzales said.
Up to this week, WASA had not received an application for a well drilling/water abstraction permit from the SWP to ascertain the source of their water for the park’s operations.
WASA produces 12.6 million gallons of water daily in Tobago, which Gonzales said is not enough for its 60,000 customers far less to provide to a water park.
“I can tell you the demand already outstrips the supply currently,” he said.
According to Gonzales, WASA is working feverishly “to meet the four million gallons of water deficit” by undertaking some measures.
“The construction of any water park in light of that gap can further exacerbate the water challenges on the island. This will only deprive existing customers of water in order to serve a new customer.”
WASA recently spent $60 million to desilt the Hillsborough Dam.
“The authority is drilling three groundwater wells in the Mary’s Hill area which will produce an additional one million gallons of water per day, while we are moving to construct a water treatment plant in Goldsborough which will generate two million gallons of water daily.”
However, Gonzales said WASA was willing to work with the developer, who would need to send an application to them.
“Once the application is made WASA will examine the feasibility of a surface or groundwater source. WASA will determine if that is feasible in the circumstances.”
Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development Trevor James, speaking at the sod-turning ceremony, had said that the water park fits in with the THA’s vision.
“It fits exactly into the plans that we had, and therefore we pursued it. We looked at the whole spatial plan for Friendship Estate, and we took a decision to redo that plan and to place what we thought would be the first development on Friendship Estate in a prominent position,” he added.
Also delivering remarks at the sod turning, B Yisrael had said the Department of Land Management has been dutifully conducting the surveys and doing all that is necessary.
“That means the THA is tasked with the development of additional infrastructure that is necessary to make this piece of property one that the other developers will work with. And that includes simple things like electricity. It will also include the piece of land, the piece of road that we will be constructing to ensure that we have a straight route from here to the airport shortly … and all the other infrastructural development needs that are required.”
Weighing in on the proposed water park, Tobago Business Chamber chairman Martin George told Guardian Media that any such development would promote Tobago’s interest and add to its flow of activities.
“Of course, the question is whether the development has been well thought out. Whether it has all the necessary approvals, if it would be a world-class facility and would be properly maintained, financed, resourced and sustainable by the private sector in the long run. We don’t want it to be another Manta Lodge Hotel, where you have the THA having to step in and basically rescue it and then end up with a white elephant in its hands,” he said.
In 2009, the People’s National Movement-led THA administration, under then chief secretary Orville London, completed the process to acquire a portion of Friendship Estate to be used for public purposes.
The lands, which were compulsorily acquired in 2010 and vested in the Ministry of Tobago Development, were listed to be used for housing settlements, recreational facilities, agricultural enterprises and environmental protection.
Tobago water park
By: Shaliza Hassanali