SABA - Members of the Island Council raised several issues during the Central Committee meeting on Tuesday, September 26, such as the water supply, the gasoline interruption, the Makana ferry, the reforestation project, the vision for Saba and transparency in government.
Present for Tuesday’s Central Committee meeting, which was chaired by Elsa Peterson, were Vito Charles and Saskia Matthew. Prior to the handling of the second budget amendment, the members made use of the opportunity to pose questions to the Executive Council.
Charles asked about the production of reverse osmosis (RO) water, which recently had to be halted due to the large groundswells. He wanted to know what was being done to mitigate the situation whereby the intake pipe has to be removed in case of big groundswells. Seeing the temporary water shortage on the island, Charles asked whether there was sufficient storage capacity and whether there were plans to expand this.
“How does the Executive Council look at reducing the risk of minimizing interruptions in water production in general? What is being done to reduce the risk of an interruption in water production in the future, especially considering that the most recent interruption occurred during the peak of the hurricane season and a severe drought?”
Charles further asked how the Saba Splash drinking water facility was affected and why the filling stations in Windwardside and Hell’s Gate were not running. He enquired what was being done to compensate drivers for the increased costs of trucking water since the fuel prices and other business-related costs have increased since the $60 price per 1,000 gallons truck load was originally introduced.
Commissioner Bruce Zagers explained that government was negotiating with the Netherlands to expand the storage capacity. Increasing the storage capacity of RO water, while much needed, was not the only solution. He said that several projects were in preparation to bring stability and improve functionality.
The pumping capacity on the existing pipelines will be enhanced to increase the speed of moving the water which will allow the cisterns to fill up faster.
Zagers noted that there is an issue with the pumps that move the water to Windwardside and Hell’s Gate. The pumps need to be replaced, but this has proven to be a challenge to find the right replacement pumps. Until this is solved, water trucks will need to make use of the Bottom filling station. The system is still able to pump water to Saba Splash.
The Commissioner said that government was looking at adjusting the subsidy to ensure that water prices remain stable, while being fair to the truck drivers whose costs have indeed increased. A project to improve the water intake at the harbor will be tendered before the end of this year. The intake will be placed deeper and better protected from groundswells, greatly reducing the risk of lengthy down periods. “We have come a long way to improve the water system and with additional investments the system will be further upgraded.”
Council Member Peterson sought clarity on the gasoline interruption a few weeks ago. She asked how the gas prices are regulated and whether the Executive Council was aware of the issue with the gas price and the supplier. “Has the local government looked at how to avoid such a situation in the future? Will government conduct a risk analysis to determine what other factors could affect the fuel supply, how to avoid this and whether alternative solutions are necessary?”
Island Governor Jonathan Johnson explained which steps were taken to address the gas interruption situation. Local government got in touch with the Acting National Representative and the Head of the Caribbean Netherlands Tax Office. The Tax Office and the supplier didn’t reach a solution, so the Public Entity Saba intervened because it concerned a highly urgent matter. An agreement was negotiated and a joint statement issued after which the sale of gas resumed. Johnson confirmed that an evaluation was being done of what transpired and how to prevent a recurrence.
Councilman Charles asked about the Makana Ferry. “For some time, the Samantha is being used for ferry services. How is the use of an alternative boat regulated in the contract?” He enquired about the video on social media where an incident with the Samantha took place during rough seas. “What is the safety protocol for boarding when seas are higher than normal in the harbor?” Charles further asked for an update on the issue of Immigration and the deboarding and reboarding of Statia passengers.
Councilwoman Saskia Matthew asked about the authority of the harbor master in cases such these and whether the harbor master can stop the boarding process in urgent situations.
Quality of service
Commissioner Zagers said that there were general concerns about the quality of service provided by the Makana Ferry. He said that it was up to the captain to decide whether disembarking and embarking take place, unless the harbor is closed, which was not the case at the time of the incident. He said the matter has to be addressed with Makana management and that safety is always a priority. “There needs to be a clearer protocol for situations such as these.” He explained that if the Makana ferry had been running that day, this would not have happened since this vessel moors differently.
The continuous usage of the backup vessel Samantha needs to be addressed with management, since the contract says that the Makana is the main vessel. “The Shipping Inspectorate in St. Maarten has also raised this issue.” Other parties, including Saba, Statia and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management share the concerns and are addressing the matter.
The challenge of all Makana Ferry passengers having to clear in and out of Saba is still an issue. Discussions are ongoing to modify the schedule in a way that passengers will clear in and out on their respective island. However, this means a later departure time from Statia and an earlier departure time from St. Maarten. Zagers said there were discussions to split the schedule which will allow for more direct connections for Saba and Statia. “This may reduce the frequency, but will greatly improve the quality of connectivity.” Discussions with Customs and Immigration about their operating hours continue, but this is something that the local government has no control over.
Councilwoman Matthew in her questions addressed the importance of transparency of government. She mentioned the new permanent traffic situation at Paris Hill Road as of next week, which in her opinion, the Public Entity should have communicated long ago. “Thankfully, Saba Cares took on that task, and people got the opportunity to ask questions and give feedback. However, feedback and questions are for the planning phase, not a week before the job starts. When does the Executive Council see it feasible to be more transparent, especially regarding legal obligations like publishing licenses and building permits? This allows the time for feedback, questions, and results in proper planning.”
Zagers announced the visit of a Saba delegation to the Netherlands as of next Monday. Zagers will head the delegation, which also consists of Head of the Finance Department Maureen Van der Kaap-Hassell, Head of the Department of Community Development Rosa Johnson and Senior Policy Advisor Nicole Johnson. Meetings will be held with all the relevant ministries to discuss topics with regard to the further progress and development of Saba.