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Shits and Ladders

Jacob’s ladder sewage proposal process explained
June 22, 2017 By Emma Weaver and Sarah Pitts
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People gather outside the Museum to watch the annual Ladder Challenge on St. Helena's Day, May 21. Photo by Emma Weaver

One of St Helena’s main protected landmarks – the infamous 699-step Jacob’s Ladder – may be uprooted so a sewage pipe can be placed alongside or underneath.

Connect St Helena, Ltd., the island’s only water and sewage company, has put in proposals to run a sewage pipeline down the length of the Ladder.

Proposals 2016/136, 2016/137 and 2016/138 were submitted to the St Helena Land Development Control Authority (LDCA) in September 2016 by Connect Operations Director Leon de Wet. The proposals outline new sewage facilities in Half Tree Hollow and Jamestown, with an option to connect the two along Jacob’s Ladder, to help with anticipated population growth, public health and environmental concerns.

The proposals would also change Connect’s current process of raw-sewage dumping into swimming areas on the shores of the island.

Dumping raw sewage into swimming waters – into marine protected waters – is an obvious issue St Helena faces. However, long-term St Helenian resident Andrew Pearce, amongst others, does not believe proposals 2016/136-138 are the answer.

Pearce, an architect and member of the St Helena Heritage Society (which put in a formal objection to the proposals), has been following 2016/136-138 since September. He is concerned about the proposals for two main reasons.

Firstly, he is concerned because proper process has not been followed for the applications.

Connect’s application was initially accepted while Riana de Wet – the wife of Leon de Wet – was Acting Chief Planning Officer.

Riana de Wet has since said the proposals are only outline proposals, and do not yet have a proper Environmental Impact Assessment. However, the applications remain, moving slowly through the pipelines.

“I’ve been following the progress of the sewage applications from Half Tree Hollow and down Jacob’s ladder and out into the sea since they were submitted back in September,” Pearce said. “It’s gone through various processes, the most significant of which was in January when the applications went before the planning board and really to all intents and purposes they were effectively thrown out. So really, my concern is that they’ve already been rejected, so why is this happening again.”

The LDCA in January (when David Taylor was Locum Chief Planning Officer for a brief period), asked Connect to withdraw its application and resubmit, or the application would be denied. This recommendation was laid out in a 10-page letter.

The summary of the recommendation, found at the end of the letter, reads:

RECOMMENDATIONS
That the Land Development Control Authority recommends to the Governor in Council
A) That Connect St Helena Ltd be invited to withdraw the present outline development applications and EIA Report; and to resubmit with

(a) a comprehensively based EIA and Report (not making prior judgements based on engineering solutions) and extended to consider further the impacts upon marine life as well as bathing water quality; and

(b) full consideration of all aspects of storm water including usage of both storm water and treated effluent for irrigation in Half Tree Hollow; and

(c) full assessment of heritage conservation issues (additional to the Ladder).

B) That Government commissions a professional appraisal of the Ladder and fully costed proposals for its restoration to internationally accepted conservation standards.

Pearce said the LDCA decided to accept the recommendation of the Locum Chief Planning Officer, David Taylor. However, the advice was never passed to the Executive Council, and the recommendation was struck from public record in February.

The proposals then moved on to a second meeting on May 9. New Chief Planning Officer Riana De Wet said withdrawal was not an option for the Authority to have presented, so revisiting the existing proposals would be necessary. De Wet did not address any conflict of interest at the meeting, such as her marriage to the applicant, and did not mention January’s meeting.

Although no decisions were made in May, the Authority appeared clearly in favour of the proposals with little to no objections.

The proposals are now on their third special meeting, and have still not been resubmitted as Taylor’s recommendation asked. If any of the additional documents requested in the January recommendation have been submitted, it is not public record. The Land Planning and Development Control Ordinance states proposals should have a 60-day turn around; the LDCA received the applications in September 2016, and dealt with them in January 2017, but those same applications are still in the system.

The capital of St. Helena, Jamestown, from the top of Jacob's Ladder. Photo by Sarah Pitts

Secondarily, Pearce is concerned because putting sewage piping down Jacob’s Ladder would involve taking out parts of the Ladder, which is a listed landmark as well as a main tourist attraction.

“There are two issues really: there’s the process how this has all come about,” Pearce said. “But secondly, do people really want what is an iconic thing in Jamestown, in St. Helena, being affected by a pipe either being cut through it or placed alongside it?”

The sewage pipeline would run from a proposed new-facility at Half Tree Hollow, down into Jamestown, the busiest area of the island. The pipe would run into another new, proposed sewage facility in Jamestown, which would be surrounded by listed buildings like the Museum.

Upkeep of the pipes would be vital so as to prevent spillage and odour, but would mean Jacob’s Ladder, the Museum and the Museum parking lot would frequently be out of commission for upkeep and repairs. There are more cars than people on the island, and parking in the capital is already an issue.

A special meeting of the Land Development Control Authority was scheduled for June 21. The meeting has been rescheduled to June 28, likely as the Authority did not advertise the meeting seven days prior to the event as outlined in the Planning Ordinance. The June 28 meeting will be held at 9am in the Education Learning Centre in Jamestown.

Printed Courtesy of SAMS © 2017
South Atlantic Media Services
www.sams.sh

June 23, 2017 Yelka Weaver
Personally I find this proposal appalling as a health issue, and extremely shortsighted. Tourism depends on the health of our ocean. Treatment plants are needed. The very idea of having such a landmark as Jacob's Ladder out of commission as it is being destroyed and reconstructed is ludicrous. I am very concerned that Mr.Taylor's response was seemingly ignored. Here the connection between the De Wets in this progressing, raises questions that need to be addressed. We need long term beneficial policies for the future of St.Helena, not short term 'cuts' that are in any way detrimental and give us shanty status. We need an environment that attracts visitors and returning Saints, not one that repels them.
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