Minister of Public Works [Mr. Benn]: Mr. Speaker, I am unaware of rising water levels of the river at Aruca. There is no rise in the water level that I have discerned. I want to, since this is a question without notice, take some time to explain for the Hon. Member. My understanding, initially, was that this was a question relating to the Wharf at Kumaka and just to clear up any confusion, with respect to that, there are no works being undertaken with respect to the Wharf.
The revetment area on the left bank of the Aruca River just below the Wharf at Kumaka is under constant threat from the River. It is on the outside bend of the Aruca River at that point and maybe, in hindsight, for perhaps a large number of years where the fishermen’s wharf on the area there was established was perhaps not the best area to have constructed the initial wharf. So the area is under attack and retreat from the River. Over a number of years, we have been trying to get capital funds to address the problem there – the problem being the erosion of the Aruca River’s left bank. The initial difficulty even when we acquired some $20 million in 2010 and then $40 million in 2011 to do works there, had principally to do with large business squatters who had built considerable buildings on the river bank there which, in its first interval, is pegasse soil- very soft place. Even when we were trying to work with the Local Government Regional Democratic Council in the area to have those persons removed, there was considerable delay in getting those persons moved. Their presence resulted in a delay in the start of the project and in greater erosion than was anticipated in the original designs to address the situation. In fact, I had to go there personally to speak with some business persons who were refusing to move even though there were large cracks running between the buildings, cracks preliminary to the embankment failing into the River. There was no effort or support that we could have gotten at the local level in terms of the Local Government, no proper support even with the police at that time, and, in fact, I had to fly men from Georgetown to remove those persons, to demolish their structures. That was done but it delayed the project by about seven months.
Subsequently, the works started. There was delay in equipment and we recognised early on – in October of last year – that more works will be required. Over the period of the Elections when the operators had to demobilise form the area, there was filling of the revetment which was put in place with material which was inappropriate and without the tie-back from what is called king-piles on the river side and anchor piles on the landward side which resulted in the revetment slowly failing into the river. We decided then at the beginning of the new year that we would have to, of course, retreat the revetment further landward, up against the road. In the meantime, the works were being delayed and interrupted either by equipment failure or by persons and interests who wanted to go back there to sell.
I want to say that the position of the Ministry is that we would not allow a return of those people onto the river bank. It puts at risk their businesses, themselves and the infrastructure. And I am aware that the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development has been making arrangements for the relocation of those persons to what is called a marketing tarmac area. I believe it has started or has plans to start to raise the level of that area where people could properly, safely and in good order do their businesses.
At the present time, what the Hon. Member may have been referring to – rising in the water levels – may have been related to high, spring tides. Those spring tides will normally flood the road at that level. Our intention is to raise it at a level where there will be no flooding of the road but we will always have to ensure that we do not burden the area which will increase the forces which will cause the area to fail. The soils are naturally weak.
In terms of continuing the project, we have, over the past week, taken up steel sheet pilings to drive the revetment in completion at both sides to the depth of 40 feet. The king piles spacing has been reduced to ten feet and the anchor piles spacing is, I believe, now at 20 feet or 25 feet to have what is, in effect, an embankment revetted on both sides, supported mainly on one side so there will be access to the Stelling. The area is compromised, as I said, because of the length of time in which the project was able to become mobilised. We have to replace the machine we have there and we are converting it to what is properly a river defence project. We hope that within two months we will get this problem fixed. Within two months we hope that we will get the project finished, the material... [Member: What?] It is much more technical than it appears on the face of it. Otherwise, we will have to dig out all of the materials there at great expense and do other things. Two months is the current schedule.