Environmental Assessment Impact to be done in coming months

Basseterre, St. Kitts – The construction of the new Basseterre High School (BHS) in the Ponds site area will have minimal impact on the Basseterre Aquifer, according to Andrew Hutchinson of STANTEC Consulting.

In a press conference organised by the Ministry of Education, Hutchinson indicated his determination following his reviews on a number of existing reports done on the aquifer. However, an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is expected to be completed to ascertain full conclusiveness on the matter.

Hutchinson explained that the site is in the urban industrial zone and is located in the Needsmust well field, where several wells are to the north east of the site. He added that six Needsmust wells in the area of the site are 1,000 feet away and all of the wells are upstream from the site.

“Any development that is done here is down stream of the wells and of the aquifer and very close to the coast,” he said. “Discharge from the BHS will have minimal possible impact due to location on the south edge of the aquifer and is down stream of the water wells. The wells are being pumped to the east of that.”

Hutchinson further explained that the school’s estimated sewage will be 16,000-20,000 gallons per day and that they are 5,000 people living in the urban industrial zone near the aquifer who all dispose of their waste water into the ground.

“There is no central sewage system in Basseterre and most people rely on septic tanks and soak pits,” he said.

He recommended that due to the volume of sewage the school will generate, it will have to be treated and not be disposed directly into the ground: “The BHS’s volume of sewage discharge requires treatment. Because of its density, it will generate up to 20,000 gallons of sewage per day and that is a point source. Using best practices, we would not recommend that it be disposed directly into the ground and we are saying that it should have treatment because it is a large volume at one source.”

Hutchinson added that the treatment can take place on an adjacent site to the south, near to the coast and further away from the Needsmust well field.

“We would recommend tertiary treatment,” he said. “It would be best if the treatment took place off the school site on the vacant land next door nearer to the coast area.”

He noted that the development also created an opportunity that will assist in recharging the aquifer. “This development also creates the opportunity to mitigate storm water drainage to the area and to recharge the aquifer,” he said.

Education Minister Shawn Richards indicated that the government established a number of committees to spearhead the preliminary task in the process of constructing a new BHS and one such committee was the SKN Water Working Group that was assigned with the task of selecting a site to build the new school.

“Following the identification of various sights, another committee was established to study the water in light of the fact that two of the sites were in the vicinity of the Basseterre Aquifer,” Richards said. “Subsequently, the cabinet approved the site for the [BSH] at Ponds Extension in East Basseterre. The size of the land for the building of the new Basseterre High School is 14 acres.”

Following the decision, Richards disclosed that the cabinet ordered the formation of a steering committee for the construction of the new school.

“The terms of reference were prepared in quick time by the steering committee and submitted to Innotech, which has prepared the preliminary drawing for the new Basseterre High School,” he said. “Shortly thereafter, a boundary and topographical survey was undertaken by the department of land and surveys.”

He added that debate to any adverse effect of the new school on the Basseterre Valley Aquifer began and the committee promised the public several different engagements held to speak to this concern. Richards said that throughout the entire process, the government planned to be cautious and ensured they received proper advice.

“The government, in ensuring that throughout every step we are careful and get the necessary advice, we must be satisfied we are getting value for money,’ he said. “We must be satisfied that the best site has been chosen and we must be satisfied that the public has been consulted. We must take into consideration that we are currently leasing land to house the school, but that has not rushed the government to start construction. We do agree we have ideally not the best situation.”

Cromwell Williams, director of public works, also gave an update as to the potential designs of the school

“We are at the stage now where we are still finalising the conceptual design,” he said. “From there, the designers will move to the actual detailed design. We have not really had a full commitment because a lot of things can happen and will be done during the same time as the Environmental Impact Assessment.” He also added that duration for construction of the school is set to take up to two years.