Jan 04, 2021 Letters
I read with trepidation and fear of your report of Bharrat Jagdeo’s announcement that Wales Estate will be converted into an onshore base for gas and oil — shore to base gas line (Jan 1). That could be a disaster in the making in a magnitude many times greater than Skeldon. Wales is not suitable for an oil and gas industry base as the soil is not appropriate for major factories or pipelines. It poses safety and environmental issues. There is potential for major fires from gas lines that could be cut off by vessels. The environmental impact of such a project is enormous.
Wales is too far in the river from the shore for a base that would be efficient for movement of goods and equipment to and from offshore production oil sites. And it poses great risks to life in the area. Such a base would also disrupt activities from the coastline on both sides of the banks up the river way past Wales. It will destroy flora and fauna in the area. A shore base or gas and power generating should be stationed away from high density population centers.
One recalls that Jagdeo went hurriedly into transforming Skeldon that cost the country in excess of US$145M. It is well known that several men fronting for political directors became wealthy overnight. That factory is now a white elephant and we are still paying the bills for it. The last government cannibalized it and hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment disappeared. The costs associated with that factory would never be recovered. The talk is government plans to give it to Dubai that has no interest in producing sugar. So sugar workers will once again be left in the cold as happened when the factory was built.
Wales will cost in excess of US$600M to be transformed into a shore base. That would be a huge debt that would take decades to be repaid. And it may turn out to be another White elephant. Several politically individuals would be enriched off the huge debt just like in Skeldon. The construction and operation phase would disrupt traffic in the area affecting other economic activities. The proposed overhead bridge would impact on economic life and movement near the Demerara Harbour Bridge. Ships could run into the base of the overhead bridge – a serious threat to the new overhead bridge expected in three years. Increased ship traffic poses serious risks of major accidents. Vessel would pass under the new Demerara bridge construction and both projects would compete for vessel space as construction commences in a year affecting other sectors of the economy, such as the fishing, mining, forestry, and bauxite industries.
Building a shore to gas base in Wales would add to the traffic congestion in the river and in the small village. The fishing industry would be severely affected. If there were any spillage or fire in the area, then the fishing industry would be devastated; closed down. Also increased movement of marine traffic pose a threat to the submersed communication cable line (phone, internet, etc.) and power line under the river. West Demerara and Georgetown are connected by the power grid. On several occasions, the power line was severed by ships resulting in perennial blackouts. The telecom cable was also cut several times over the last couple of decades. Increased traffic at Wales would lead to routine cut of the cable and disruption of telecom service for people on the West Bank all the way to Parika and beyond.
Soil experts tell me that Demerara River is a fault line in the earth’s crust – the latching layers of soil and rocks on both sides of the river are significantly different. The clay is of different quality on both sides of the river. It is very unstable to pass gas line in such soil condition. The soil is very weak, unsuitable for heavy construction for a heavy project of a gas base nature. The weakness of the soil is well observed in the construction of the GPL station at Vreed-en-Hoop. The power station suffered significant cost overruns in foundation works.
The PPP promised in its manifesto to re-open the four closed sugar estates. Three were re-opened. Wales Estate is yet to re-open. The factory was cannibalized by the preceding regime and rendered inoperable; equipment was plundered. The government has decided it would return to sugar production at Wales because to produce sugar, the estate would have to start from scratch. Some other form of economic activity is needed to create employment and economic activities. This hair brained idea of a shore base is ill-conceived. It is a bad idea. It will not create employment for the people of the area as they lack skills in the technical aspects of construction and operation of a shore base. Instead of a shore base, government can give land to the former estate workers to grow cash crops.
Wales is not anyone’s personal land. The government should give the land to the workers much more than those designated to some of it. The land must be distributed to the people of the area who worked at Wales. A plan could be developed to guide them into farming and other economic activities. Let them develop the land into appropriate cash crop farming. These private farmers will help to provide the growing demand for food. Government can provide them grants and or soft loans to get started and offer subsidies for cultivation over a fixed period of time especially if they are affected by natural calamities. It would cost the government just a small amount of money, not even one hundredths of the cost of a shore base. And the private farmers would be far more productive than a shore base. Any shore base should be constructed closer to the coast – East Coast, West Coast, Essequibo Coast, Berbice Coast, not on the banks of rivers with human habitat and a rich flora and fauna.
I urge the government to rethink this idea of a shore to base gas industry at Wales.
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