Works ministry embarks on $300m river repair programme

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan and acting director of drainage Katherine Badloo-Doerga observe work at Honda River in Chaguanas on Saturday. – Lincoln Holder

An “aggressive” desilting of major rivers and drains programme, in which the government has agreed to spend $300 million, is progressing smoothly in the central region, said the Works and Transport Ministry Rohan Sinanan.

On Saturday, the minister and other officials visited sites in Central Trinidad to get a first-hand view of the work which is part of the ministry’s ongoing National Drainage Desilting Programme.

“We are far advanced and trying to take full advantage of the dry season. Phase one is almost completed, and we are about to start phase two. We are on track to complete our river cleaning programmes,” he said while at the Honda River near Factory Road in Chaguanas.

Sinanan told reporters that 132 desilting and major upgrade projects are to be completed in this financial year in central Trinidad.

He said the ministry is tackling the most critical areas simultaneously in different areas.

Asked for an update on repairs to the collapsing embankment of the Caroni River, Sinanan said when the river is full, there is a challenge for outflows in some of the secondary tributaries that flow into the river.

There are several projects ongoing, including embankment works, he said.

“It is a long river, and we do different aspects of it every year. This year, we have about four or five areas where the embankment will be repaired and rebuilt,” Sinanan said.

“This year, we have desilting work taking place, the building of bank gates being installed, and additional pumps being installed to pump water into the river from the tributaries once we have a high tide. So a significant amount of work is being done.”

Residents of La Paille, Caroni Village, New Street Extension and Ibis Gardens, Caroni have been complaining about the eroded embankment in several areas and are hoping the ministry use the dry season to repair the river bank before the rainy season.

Referring to the massive flooding in Greenvale in 2018, Sinanan said whatever flooding problems there are in that area as well as other Housing Development Corporation projects, are considered to be localised.

It is, therefore, flooding caused when the internal drains are challenged with the capacity. It is not overflow from any river. Sinanan said much work had gone into the Caroni River since that major flood.

Regarding flooding nationwide, he said garbage in the watercourses and several other factors contributes to it.

“At the end of the day, we are responsible for our actions. We do have an ongoing programme where we try to inform people of the challenges if they dispose of garbage in a manner that would cause problems,” Sinanan said.

“Not far from here, some people were encroaching on the banks and using the banks for agricultural purposes. That is another challenge we have.”

He said in some cases, people threaten the ministry’s machine operators by saying they had crops on the banks and demanded that the workers refrain from working there.

“But we have to do what we have to do, and we will go in to create that access to deal with the water courses. We are working with the different regional corporations as well where we have illegal structures on the courses or close to the watercourses that prevent access to have them dealt with.”

Acting director of drainage Katherine Badloo-Doerga and other ministry officials were also part of the tour.

Badloo-Doerga spoke about the upgrade to existing pumps and flood gates and the replacement and repair of sluice gates and flap gates across Trinidad.

This programme started in 2019 and is ongoing, with many projects in the Caroni area.

“So far, we have replaced pumps in the south and north. Right now, we have projects ongoing in Bamboo 1 and 2 areas. We will be rehabilitating the pump houses themselves. There is an ongoing project in El Socorro south where we are installing a new pump,” Badloo-Doerga said.

She added that sluice and flap gates are replaced every year.

“At the end of 2020, we have replaced close to 21 gates in the Caroni area alone. There is another project ongoing in Mohan Street, Bamboo 2, and we have a gate structure to rehab.”

She referred to the flood gate stolen in October at Abattoir Road/Sea Lots Pump Station areas in Sea Lots, saying works are ongoing.

“As fast as we put them back, they are being stolen. Even in this area, we had a recent theft of another gate. It’s something ongoing that we are dealing with,” Badloo-Doerga said.

She said when people remove the gates, they cause a tremendous amount of impact on the saltwater entering into farming areas.

She said flood gate prices vary depending on their sizes and some range between $150,000 to $400,000.

Last year, many flood victims from Valsayn complained that the pump was not pulling the water fast enough.

“We have had that pump there for years and are installing a second one. We usually put a mobile pump, if needed, to increase the capacity to pump out. In the last flooding, a couple of breaches caused the water to run in at different points and eventually covered the pump so we could operate it properly because it was underwater.”