Letter to Hon. Premier from opposition leader, July 26, 2011

Donaldson Romeo
P.O. Box 340

Brades, Montserrat

 

July 26, 2011

RE:  Concerns and opinion about how the decision to site the proposed sand-mining jetty is being made

Hon Mr R. T. Meade

Chief Minister of Montserrat
Office of the Chief Minister
Government Head Quarters

Brades, Montserrat

 

Dear Sir,

I am in full support of the need to construct a Jetty in the south for sand mining exports.  However, based on the information I have to date, I am increasingly concerned about how the decision to site the proposed sand-mining jetty is being made, and I believe I must communicate my thoughts and therefore request a meeting with you to discuss the following.

From your discussion on ZJB with Basil Chambers in May, 2011 you spoke of a preliminary design for a jetty being reviewed by Public Works and by those in the sand-mining industry, to go back for final design in “two weeks.” Then in May you set up a steering committee tasked with reviewing the three sites – Old Roads, Isles and Foxes bay – and presenting a recommendation as to the preferred site.  Then in a later press conference you mentioned that the public would have an opportunity to comment on the proposals in hand and that the proposals could not be shown to the public until the sand-mining industry had made their input to the decision.  We were also told of a report that looks at the technical aspects of Fox’s Bay versus Isles Bay, and that the GoM was committed to a public consultation on the various options, which were expected to take place late last month or early this month.

This raises the question as to whether the public needed to see this report to be in a position to make an informed input.  From our conversation two Fridays past it seems that the decision as to where the jetty will be sited has already been made behind closed doors.  Thus the public meeting will only be an opportunity for the public to vent their feelings on what has already been decided even if they disagree and argue “till the cows come home.”

In February last, I communicated to DfID and the Government of Montserrat a memorandum which among other things highlighted why a jetty needed to be placed in the Foxes bay area.  Not only would a jetty at Foxes bay be at much lower hazard, and would facilitate the exploration, development and operation of the proposed geothermal power plant but it would have the advantage of opening up an enclave for industrial development.  Should the Geothermal development succeed, there will also be a possibility to use electricity and steam or hot liquid in industrial processes such as manufacture of cement- and- sand based building products.  It should be evident that if the sand can be used as an input to make value added products so that we are exporting manufactured products, and not raw materials only, this would be to the national advantage.

We also need to bear in mind the location of the jetty relative to the volcano.  Just as should have been held in mind several years ago when the Secondary School and Community College were placed in Salem, and again two years ago when considerable sand mining equipment was lost at Trants to the Volcano’s pyroclastic flows.  The historic blunder of trying to avoid the cost of a road and settling for the undersized and badly placed Geralds Airport — in the face of strong public protest — blocked off the opening up of the far north, choked off our tourism potential and created an almost unsolvable air communications nightmare.

Otherwise, the sorry account of repeatedly ignoring the potential impact of Montserrat’s active volcano will continue to be – as the International Development Committee of the UK Parliament noted in their report of 1998 concerning events leading up to the loss of life on June 25, 1997 —  a “signal example of failure in communication, political leadership and responsibility.”

If the jetty is in Foxes bay, sand mining would still be viable, and stockpiling of sand could be done while the volcano is less active. This way, when there is heightened activity, the stockpiled sand can be shipped from the Foxes Bay area, making for a more reliable supply and a lower investment risk.

If the jetty is placed in the mouth of the Belham, and activity threatens or engulfs that valley — including by mud flows – the facility would be put out of use and the industrial activity would be shut off.  This is similar to what happened at Trants, with considerable loss of equipment.  Similarly, if the pier is in the Belham mouth, and volcanic activity cuts off access, that would shut down the access required to explore, develop or operate a geothermal plant.  But, a jetty at Foxes bay would be at significantly lower risk, and would be much less likely to be closed off by volcanic activity.

Therefore, if the jetty is sited at Foxes bay, sand mining would be facilitated. Geothermal exploration, development and operation would be supported, and the risk of conflict with the villa tourism sector would be minimised.  With an access road from Isles Bay to the jetty at Foxes Bay, residents can avoid mudflows and periods of volcanic threat. For these and other reasons I am therefore confident that the Foxes bay option will provide the greatest and most sustainable net economic benefit to Montserrat.

I do acknowledge that widened ghauts and the need to fix and improve damaged roads may pose some challenge for trucking via Cork Hill to the Foxes bay area; but the reduced risk and advantages of opening up an enclave would more than repay additional costs.  If necessary as well, prefabricated high load capacity Bailey-type bridges (similar to the old one over Fort Ghaut) could connect gaps cut by new deep ghauts in the Delvins-Foxes bay area, quite quickly.

Just several years ago, DfID and the GoM chose to avoid the cost of roads that would have opened up a vast expanse of lands surrounding the but little more costly Thatch Valley airport site.  They instead settled for our economy-choking, undersized, badly placed and frightening Geralds Airport.  We dare not repeat a similar short-sighted mistake by needlessly shutting down viable Villa tourism in Isles bay. As  — for the  relatively minor additional cost of a road, fuel etc. — a new area could be opened up to better facilitate more sustainable sand mining (i.e. less exposed to volcano hazards), geothermal energy and other industrial development.

Since DfID is committed to support the sustainable development potential of Geothermal Energy and Sand Mining, a port in Foxes bay could potentially attract DfID’s financial support in the form of grant or attractive loan terms to GoM.  Clearly if the port at Foxes bay is owned by the GoM then the people of Montserrat will get a greater share of benefits from a port facilitating sand mining, geothermal, other industrial activity and exports.

This is why it will be important to have a more participative and transparent decision making process from the start, instead of being informed of a decision already made behind closed doors by an inner-circle and which will not be changed even if people “argue till the cows come home.”

Over the past sixteen years in particular, there has been a pattern of bad decisions made behind closed doors, to the disadvantage and harm of the people of Montserrat.   Made, behind closed doors; made, in the short-term interests of inner-circles; while, ignoring the true magnitude of the volcano hazard; and, made to the detriment of the nation.  Sand miners, tax payers, the people in the Villa Tourism settlements, and the general community would be better served by a more democratic, transparent, participative process.

Furthermore, as Minister of Finance you are yet to explain in greater detail what benefits the GoM is planning to claim for our people from the profits to be made from the Nation’s resources.

Surely, sand miners and their investors are already clear on the gains in store for them.  Clearly it is not enough to simply say that GoM is taking a back seat to the private sector with sand mining.  The people – and even the sand miners as a whole — need to know more details and be convinced beforehand as to whether placing the jetty at Isles bay or at  Foxes Bay would be of greater benefit for us all, while allowing Villa tourism to co-exist with it.

Even the sand miners themselves need to know beforehand what the newly proposed jetty will cost them.  As it stands only the inner circle knows.

Both sites have their advantages and disadvantages and I urge you to share all relevant information and to sincerely consult and consider the views of the people you represent before committing them to serious and far reaching decisions such as the one in hand.  This can only be to your advantage as a democratically elected leader since there is always wisdom in much council.

As a member of parliament I therefore request copies of all reports and studies (MVO related, environmental, etc.) relevant to jetty construction at Old Road, Isles or Foxes Bay.  I also request that they be published on the GoM web site.

I trust we will therefore learn from the past instead of repeating its unhappy chapters and look forward to your views and response to the points presented in this letter.

Yours truly,

Donaldson Romeo

__________________

Donaldson Romeo, MLC

cc.

HE, Governor
Legislative Council
Relevant stakeholders

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