Needhams Point at risk
ONE OF BARBADOS’ prime pieces of tourism real estate is now the country’s most glaring environmental hazard.
The 12 hectares of land in the middle of the Needhams Point peninsula have been unoccupied for several years since the Mobil Oil Company ceased its refinery operations there, and it was expected that when it was cleaned up Government could develop it as a prime tourism spot.
That may be a longer way off now.
The saga of the site started back in 2004, has included two restarts and a court case, and still appears a long way from conclusion.
In 2004 under the Owen Arthur administration, Canadian company Fiton Technologies Corporation, which specializes in remediation of industrial locations, was contracted by Government to clean up the former Mobil site.
The price then was $14.5 million, and the work was to remove oil both above and beneath the surface.
The work was started, with Fiton preparing to construct a retainer wall underground to prevent oil from migrating any further to uncontaminated areas.
They never finished that job, as a court injunction was filed by the Mobil Oil Company, which sued both Government and Fiton, forcing stoppage of the work.
Work restarted two years later in 2006 and continued until June 2007, when there was another hitch.
This time the problem was a payment dispute, as Fiton ceased work due to an issue with Government’s payment schedule.
Payments were made and work restarted again, but the two parties had another problem with payments and this time it was Fiton taking Government to court, in May 2008.
A mediator was brought in to solve the problem, and the two parties agreed to a new contract, this time for $64 million, in March 2009. Eventually, Cabinet approved the new contract, with work being scheduled to commence as soon as possible, because of the risk of an environmental accident.
In 2010, Minister of Finance, Chris Sinckler, in the House of Assembly, revealed Government had agreed to the contract, and that it would take about three years to complete the job.
That contract remains unsigned, and oil has started to spread to new areas.
One fear is that an industrial fire could last for weeks and make Needhams Point and Bay Street an environmental trouble zone.
Fiton were originally hired by Government a few months after the company successfully completed the clean-up left after the implosion of the original Hilton Hotel, a stone’s throw away from the dormant Mobil refinery site.
According to Fiton’s attorney-at-law Barry Gale, QC, the company is ready and raring to go. “Fiton has for some time now been ready to sign a contract with the Government of Barbados, which would allow it to insure the site and commence work as soon as possible,” Gale told the SUNDAY SUN.
“Fiton remains confident that Government intends to enter into a contract with them as soon as possible, so that these works can be done on an urgent basis, as to eliminate as far as possible, any risks of a catastrophic event for Barbados,” the veteran attorney added.
When Government had agreed in 2004 to contract Fiton, the company had revealed the process it would use to clean up the site, which involved the injection of microbes into the ground water or directly into sub-surface oil. That process would lead to degradation in a matter of hours.
Since the oil would be broken down into carbon dioxide and water, there would be no need to move contaminated material from one site to another, thus eliminating the risk of further spread of contamination.