Op-Ed: Buccament flood plain development accelerates; caused by planning permission fears?

st_vincent_floods_2013_806960415Peter Binose

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, Friday May 23, 2014 – The private housing development along the Buccament river, in fact beside the Buccament river in the flood plain, was going full speed when I visited last week. Express work is taking place on finishing about a dozen further units, with all stages in progress from start-up on.

I walked with a family member of the land owners and builders, who told me the family is worried that they may be forced to stop building. However, he thought perhaps because of the relationship between them and the ULP leadership they had some considerable protection.

Considering the devastation caused by the flooding it is unbelievable that the government has not stopped further building in an area which has been recorded as a disaster zone for centuries. An area prone to flooding and an ancient and modern floodplain.

Flood years for the Leeward and cause (br)=brush (ts)=Tropical Storm
1876tsbr,1886ts,1886,1887 4tropical storms,1888ts,1891ts,1894br,1895ts,1896ts,1898,1898ts,1901ts,1901tsbr,
1905tsbr,1916ts,1918tsbr,1921,1928ts,1933-2tsbr,1943tsbr,1944-2ts,1949ts,1951br,1954,1955br,1960br,1967tsbr,1980,1986tsbr,
1987ts,1994tsbr,2001-2ts,2002ts,2003ts,2004br,2007br,2010,2012ts
44 times in 141yrs end of 2012.

What is of major concern, is the activity along the river on the Harlequin Resort side of the main road. I noticed that rocks and boulders of varying sizes from fist sized to sheep size, have piled up on the river banks on the village side. This has created a flat bottom that will allow water to flow unhindered. That is until there is once again a high volume of water when they will all be dragged back into the river, and now being very mobile will block it at some point and cause further devastating flooding to the resort and the village.

In 2006 the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines commissioned a Drainage Improvement Study to assess the existing drainage conditions of Buccament.

Buccament is located on the south leeward side of the island and sustains the largest and most reliable source of potable water on the island, the Dalaway catchment, which provides over 40% of the island’s total water supply. Apart from this, the river supports community activities such as sport fishing, bathing, and water for farms and stones for building construction. From documentation, it was revealed that the riverbanks are relatively shallow at 8ft to 15ft (2001). Additionally, the river has a profound impact on the structure and life of the communities. It empties into a flood plain of relatively poor drained soils near Buccament Bay that runs along the main road.

Activity:

The installation of gabion walls comprising staggered stocks of gabions baskets varying in height between 12ft and 15ft. The walls will be 50ft in length on both banks downstream of the main bridge and 1000 ft along the right bank upstream of the bridge and 500 ft along the left bank.

The flood plain described in the above report is the same flood plain where there are now a rush of houses being built, and also the area where the Government allowed Harlequin resorts to build.

The government have done nothing to eliminate flooding at Buccament despite having been instructed on numerous reports between 2001 and 2014, recommending if not instructing the necessity of installing a river defence. The reports should have been available to the Minister of National Security and therefore Prime Minister Gonsalves and also planning department heads and to Senator Julian Francis minister of Transport, Works, Urban Development and Local Government. The reports should of been completed with full knowledge of those same individuals, if not it is a failing on their parts.  But the failure to act on those reports may well have contributed to the loss of life and property at Buccament. Ministers may well carry a responsibility for those loss of lives and the loss of property.

Since the December 2013 flooding still nothing has been done. It will happen again and so will the sea surge. This matter should be treated with the utmost urgency. I am not sure what will happen if there is a serious sea surge at Buccamnet resort, because the land was not raised and buildings are not now built on piles, but on concrete rafts or slabs just above sea level, they may all float away, concrete slabs as well.

Building in the flood plain should have been stopped in December 2013, that is another failing of the ministers and planning department.

It is now time for an enquiry to show who knew what, when, and how the people of Buccament were failed by the ministers, government and planners.

It may well be that Harlequin have a serious claim against their legal advisors who did the original searches on the land they acquired. They may also have a serious claim against the SVG government if the government failed to tell them of the numerous official reports regarding flooding probabilities. Add to that the failure to give them the Argyle airport on time, that they promised would be ready several years ago. Putting all that together Harlequin could quite well end up owning SVG. At least they will not have to pay Aliens Land Holding Tax. Thinking about that did they pay ALHT on the first time around? Or did the granting of citizenship cancel that out? Was that anything to do with ALHT?

I call on Colin Williams the DPP to consider prosecutions in all these matters, dereliction of duty and perhaps even manslaughter charges. Someone must be responsible for something, lives have been lost and we need closure, not a ‘nolle prosequi‘.

Install the river defences now and stop the building in the flood plain, before many more deaths are caused or else it will happen all over again.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter Binose. Peter Binose,self appointed keeper of the bugle, thrown the whistle away.