By Orville Williams
A commercial sand-extraction operation has been forced to a halt, after the discovery of impropriety from whistle-blowers and intervention from the relevant development and environment authorities.
The sand mining was being done by the YIDA Group, with approval from the Development Control Authority (DCA), for the development of some beaches along their property at Crabb’s.
Work had to be interrupted, however, after it was found that some aspects of the sand mining were in contradiction with the agreed stipulations.
These stipulations were shared by Chief Town & Country Planner at the DCA, Frederick Southwell, during the post-Cabinet press briefing yesterday.
“[The] application was reviewed by the DCA, the Department of Environment and the Fisheries Division. We had a series of meetings and site visits, and from those meetings, it was determined that sand could not be harvested from the sea bed within the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA),” he said.
The Fisheries Division then proceeded to identify an alternate area – a long boat channel – just northwest of Maiden Island, which had seemingly become clogged with sand. This new area, Southwell said, would be more appropriate for the operation.
“That possibility was explored – the Fisheries Division did a review/report on it, with certain recommendations – and so with that, the Development Control Authority approved the project.”
“The approval was based on the fact that the developer would need to inform the three monitoring agencies – DCA, Fisheries Division and the Department of Environment – at least a week before commencement of any work. Unfortunately, work started without us being informed and it was discovered that the sand was being removed, not from the channel, but from elsewhere,” Southwell explained.
The Fisheries Division was the first to get the call, with unknown whistleblowers raising the alarm. After receiving the information, an investigation was done and recommendations were swiftly made, Senior Fisheries Officer, Tricia Lovell shared.
“We would have received a call from a number of individuals concerning sand mining off of Maiden Island. We then, were able to ascertain that it was not within the commercial channel [as stipulated] that exists just off Maiden Island, but it was actually just off the beach that the sand was being mined.
“As a result, we contacted first the contractor, to ask exactly what was the situation – reminding them that their permission allowed removal of sand only from the channel, it did not allow removal of sand from anywhere outside of that – and we asked him at that point, to stop whatever he was doing and then I proceeded to contact the DCA.”
“I spoke to Mr. Southwell, first by phone and then I wrote a letter – indicating our concern, identifying what we had found out in the initial investigation of the matter and requested that an official stop order be issued,” Lovell explained.
The sand extraction operations have since been put on hold, for further investigation and instructions, and although no strict penalties have yet been levied, the authorities say considerations are being made for the return of the removed sand to its original area.
Manager of the Antigua and Barbuda Port Authority, Darwin Telemaque, added that guidelines will be put in place to ensure the smooth running of such operations and established penalties for similar occurrences, in the future.