The water from B&B has arrived on the island and ready for distribution. Be reminded to pick up your tickets from the Chairlady or Councilor Lilia Marin Wednesday morning. Remember to take your gallons or buckets. Each ticket value 5-5 gallons. Distribution starts at 8am.
INTERVIEW WITH MR ANDRE PEREZ
Speaking with Standard Bearer of the People's United Party on the water and power situation.
Caye Caulker slowly recovering from electricity and water outages
Both utility companies, Belize Water Services (BWS) and Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) have tried to address the issue as it is affecting the tourism sector on Caye Caulker. By Tuesday, December 31st, a slight improvement had taken place, with a low pressure of water restored, and fluctuations in power supply. Reports are that tourists are cancelling hotel reservations, while others are leaving Caye Caulker. This issue was emphasized during a press conference involving the Caye Caulker Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) and the Caye Caulker Village Council. They pointed out that this is one of the most lucrative times of the year and with the failure of these two important services, the livelihood of many is in jeopardy. Caye Caulker Chairlady Seleny Villanueva-Pott called on the government to take the issue seriously.
The island’s 150,000-gallon water storage was depleted by Monday, December 30th, and BWS dispatched 12,000 gallons of water via water trucks on barges from its headquarters in Belize City. A total of 4,500 gallons were distributed to hoteliers and 12,000 for the rest of the community. Meanwhile, a team of technicians installed a customized shaft and restored the flow of water with limitations. Many residents are still reporting low pressure, and, in some areas, there is still no water at all. In a press release on Tuesday, December 31st, BWS stated that they will continue barging water to Caye Caulker to help supply customers. While electricity has been restored, island residents continue to report several outages throughout the day. A BEL team is on the island repairing generation units to provide power to Caye Caulker. The company expects to fix all units by the end of Tuesday, December 31st, and provide an uninterrupted supply of electricity through the New Year’s festivities. BEL added that they are proceeding with plans to install a submarine cable to connect Caye Caulker with the national electricity grid by 2021.
Click here to read the rest of the article in the San Pedro Sun
Cancellations on Caye Caulker Caused By Utility Failures
Last night, we told you about the water emergency that residents of Caye Caulker had yesterday when the BWS water plant broke down - leaving the island without water for over a day! And, this at the hight of the tourism peak season!
And that's after customers all across the island were experiencing intermittent water outages since Christmas Eve.
And if the water outage wasn't enough, residents and visitors also had to cope with power outages. Belize Electricity Limited supplies the island with electricity through diesel generation, and since Boxing Day, 2 of their diesel generating units have gone down. Since then, the power company has had to ration power through load shedding.
Indeed, it's a perfect storm of failures for Caye Caulker, problems coming in by the pound, and seeming to go away only by the ounce.
This has caused frustration for visitors who are reporting mass cancellations because the utility failure has ruined their vacation.
The collective frustration of the community as a result of this loss in business has caused them to speak out publicly. They called a press conference today, and our news team traveled to the island to find out how bad the damage to their earnings is projected to be. Daniel Ortiz reports:
Like the other iconic tourism destinations in-country, the community of Caye Caulker depends heavily on the tourism high season, which is taking place right now.
Maria Vega - Chair, BTIA Caye Caulker
"This is our peak time, and all of our investments, planning, and efforts have been to have a good economy at this time of the year. This is the time that is a make-or-break time for this industry and this island."
Hotel owners and tour guides were prepared to receive a massive influx of visitors for the holidays. But instead, what they've been getting is a huge volume of complaints from their guests. For several days now, Caye Caulker has been suffering from intermittent power and water outages. Both BWS and BEL have been unable to meet the water and electricity needs of the community during this high season.
Carlos Macu - Representative, Chinatown Hotel
"When they come here, they expect to have their hot water - you know, the guests especially the Americans. They like hot water, and that's the first thing that they ask [for]. They said, 'I went to this hotel. We don't have water to flush, brush our teeth, and bathe. Bathing is the main thing for them. It's humid. We're in the tropics, and so, they always want to shower."
The residents of the island are particularly unhappy that the utility companies haven't been able to deliver continuous and uninterrupted water and electricity. They say that this is a chronic problem that both BEL and BWS are aware of.
Maria Vega - Chair, BTIA Caye Caulker
"It is more than this season. We have been experiencing shortages in the water. That means no water, low pressure, sometimes dirty water, for more than a year. And we've been patient as a community, working with the agency responsible. And every time that it's a very important, critical time for our economy, the failures are too great in terms of not enough water. This is also compounded with the matter of electricity supply. We have had problems over repeated Christmas [holidays], Easters, Lobster Fests have been total disasters. So, that's a big economic blow for the island. However, it is a worse aggravation for the visitors that come and expect that they've earned the right to relaxation."
Deon Green - Businessman/Resident, Caye Caulker
"WASA knew about it. Mr. Heredia knew about it. They all knew about it, and they didn't do anything about it during the slow season. Now that the tourist season is starting to pick up, the issue has resurfaced. Now we have a big problem."
"Okay, so you're saying that the persons in charge have ample time to prepare."
"[They] sure did."
The perspective of islanders is like that famous quote. They insist that utility companies failed to prepare, and now, the tourism stakeholders must prepare to lose revenue for a problem that they had no fault in creating.
Maria Vega - Chair, BTIA Caye Caulker
"One of our own members of the Board of Directors of the BTIA, they have had like immediately, 20 cancellations. And we're monitoring the online queries, and people are saying well, I had a trip planned for February. Is it going to be the same then? Then, I will change my mind. Even Belizeans who were planning to come and visit family here over this Christmas and New Year are saying, well, we were gonna bring in the New Year here, but it's best we go somewhere else."
"I know one hotel that had lost 25 clients in one day."
Seleny Villanueva-Pott - Chairperson, Caye Caulker Village Council
"The hardest part is having to deal with the face-to-face tourists when you're trying to explain to them that the water will come back on, but they don't want to hear that."
Carlos Macu - Representative, Chinatown Hotel
"We have had guests canceled already, and it affects us because we have bad reviews now due to that."
BEL and BWS have since reported that they've been able to restore electricity and water supply to Caye Caulker - in the case of water - at low pressure. The residents say that the damage to the island's tourism industry cannot be undone by simply turning the light and water back on.
Seleny Villanueva-Pott - Chairperson, Caye Caulker Village Council
"I hope that is a reassurance of us having water throughout the weekend because we're heading - well it's New Year's Eve. But, the damage has been done. I think it's more damage control now. We've seen the cancellations. We' don't know what tonight will look like in terms of occupancy at the rooms and at the restaurants."
"We just won the Destination of the year. These stakeholders have so much money invested in infrastructure. We pay so many taxes. We pay hotel tax, GST, Social Security."
"With tourism, we fuel not only Caye Caulker, but we fuel the country of Belize, just like San Pedro and Placencia. And we expect that the infrastructure that we're given is able to upkeep our visitors. We call on GOB to come and put the monies where they belong. If we are not able to improve the infrastructure, we will feel the dent of it in the tourism industry."
"We demand that we are given what we deserve."
"Is it wrong to reason that maybe Caye Caulker has grown rapidly, and outpace the utility companies?"
"It sounds like a good excuse to me, but if it really is an answer, I would say no. We pay for all of our utility services like everywhere in the country. Why is it then that we're left to perish in our most lucrative time of the year. It's unfair."
A group of island enterprises under the name Caye Caulker Business Association has written to the Public Utilites Commission asking for intervention. A press release from the Association says, quote, "The poor performance of both utility companies is an affront to the hard work of the Hicacquenos who have endeavored to carve out a niche in the overall business tourism product The Association...is demanding that the PUC immediately conduct a thorough investigation into the Caye Caulker situation..." End quote.
BWS: A New Back-Up Water Plant Already On Island
So, you've heard the long list of complaints from the village chairlady and hotel owners, but what do the utilities have to say? Well, they've both gotten their systems back up and running - but in BWSL's case, that's not at a hundred percent. The company put out a release this afternoon saying that for the next few days water will be supplied, but at a slightly lower pressure. That's because the company's 150,000 gallon reservoir has been depleted. And, there are some works on the plant that have to continue - so the company will continue to transport water to the island on barges.
As we told you last night all this happened because a drive shaft in the plant broke after 8 years of service. The replacement only lasted a few days before it also broke.
Today, we asked the Operations manager if this could have been prevented with regular maintenance:
Dave Pascascio, Operations Manager - BWS
"What we did yesterday was to dispatch a team out there to retrofit a shaft, a drive shaft that was made on the ground and installed and we were up and running with the plant at 9:45 p.m. last night. We immediately started to distribute water even though there was no storage. We were just putting out into the distribution the same volume we were producing to ensure that people get water immediately."
"We understand the time of the year, we understand the number of people on the island, so we are cognizant of that fact and we will not, we will do what we have to do to ensure that we increase pressures in the system."
"This, however, has resulted in massive losses in the tourism sector. Coming from the island, once again, they are speaking of cancellations and that sort of stuff. It's not necessarily your fault as the company, but couldn't this have been averted at any point, at the point where the engineers or the guys on the ground were doing the installation and saw that it wasn't a proper fit?"
"Like I said, they called me immediately. We didn't have another one in store because it's something that lasts eight years and we had the previous one in stores probably about five years, right. So we tried to order one, we couldn't because the place was closed. We ordered one already and that was fabricated last night and is being shipped but it won't reach Belize until Monday. But in the interim, the one that we, the M&E team, made on the ground yesterday is working as expected. The plant is fully functional now. The problem is to build storage based on demand. The plant can produce 150,000 gallons a day and the current daily average demand is 120,000 gallons per day. When you deplate storage completely, that is when it becomes very tricky to manage demand and to build back storage."
"We saw the release yesterday, it says that the previous shaft lasted 8 years and this one lasted 5 days or less and you also spoke about a misalignment that it wasn't properly aligned and that may have contributed to it. The question immediately arises: a) was it improperly installed and; b) again, does BWSL have sufficient redundancies in place?"
"The redundancy in Caye Caulker is storage and back up electricity supple which we recently installed a generator and true you said normally a shaft would last us 8-10 years. We changed out that one on the 23rd December and immediately upon installation I got the report that there was something wrong with the shaft, not the installation because they drew it to my attention. They tried to stabilize all the vibration in it but it was just not properly aligned, the shaft itself."
"If the first shaft expired after 8 years of service, maybe you all should have taken the measure at a time of low demand to say you know what the shaft has been there for many years, it is showing wear, let us replace it now. You probably still would have had the failure, but you would not have had the effect on the community that you have had when this happens between Christmas and New Year at the height of their tourism peak."
"True, but when you look at the age at our components at these plants we look at those very closely and we know the timing for all of them and so we time that, because I don't want to put a cost on things to say well we are justifying cost against the needs, but one of these shaft is not cheap, so we tend to maximize the use of it. We knew that we needed a second shaft. We know that we had to have one as spear and so that was on the ground for 5 years."
"Does BWS accept that it may have to have greater redundancies in place, because if you are saying and I'm must take your word for it that the shaft have some type of defect, it was not an error installation, it was a defect. Do you all have to have a redundancy for the back up? a backup for the back up knowing that water is not an option, it is essential for life."
"We are cognizant of that fact. Right now in Caye Caulker we have a 40,000 gallons in a container ready tp be commissioned. It was just unfortunate that that was not commissioned for this event. SO we have 2 RO plants on Caye Caulker and that's the backup system that we have out there."
As you heard, a new backup Reverse Osmosis plant is on the island and is waiting to be commissioned.
Bowen & Bowen is also chipping in. The company deployed a loaded water barge on an emergency mission to the Island village today. It carries 3,720 5-Gallon bottles, and and 7,680 1.75 liter Bottles which arrived this evening. Again, this is a donation. Bowen & Bowen CEO, Michael Bowen is quoted as saying, "we wanted to do something to help our fellow Belizeans, especially during this Holiday Season when they are hosting so many of our tourists. We hope our donation of Crystal Water brings some relief to the Caye Caulker Village." End quote.
BEL Says Power Stable On “La Isla Carinosa”
So, what does the other utility company have to say about the power outages that have been plaguing Caye Caulker? This afternoon, we spoke with BEL's Corporate Communications Manager, and we asked her: Will there be a reliable power supply for the rest of the island's tourism high season? Here's what she had to say:
Vonetta Burrell - Manager, Corporate Communications, BEL
"Since the evening of December 26th, we had a failure to two of our generating units on Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker, as you know, is the only municipality that's not connected to the national grid, and they're supplied by diesel generation. Equipment fail, and we had our staff go out to resolve the issues and conduct the repairs. So, we had some intermittent outages over those few days. On Monday night, we had to conduct an emergency outage, that involved some load shedding, which affected a portion of the south of the island. Our team worked, and by 8:45 in the evening, we had restored power to most of the customers that were affected, and that generating unit is back up. Today, we have teams that are continuing work to repair and restore service to the fourth unit that needs to be connected to ensure that we can maintain reliable supply to the island."
"Once those works are completed, there should be no need for outages or for any load shedding on Caye Caulker."
"The tourism-related stakeholders are upset. They're saying that this is a recurrent issue."
"As far as they're concerned, visitors have already started canceling their vacation because they had no water or electricity. What's the company's perspective on the fact that you guys are being attributed as part of the problem?"
"Well, of course, any lack of supply to our customers is of great concern to us. Our job is to keep the lights on and to make sure that we maintain consistent, reliable, and quality supply to our customers. In particular, the tourism industry, we recognize their concerns. We are of course working tediously to make sure that we can provide some sense of normalcy on Caye Caulker."
"We know that this is the height of the tourism season. We want to cause any shortfall in that section of the economy, that revenue sector. therefore, we recognize and We're working to make sure that we can restore power to Caye Caulker. We would not want to negatively impact the tourism sector. We apologize to our customers on Caye Caulker. We ask for their continued patience in the event that there is any need to have any outages to make sure that we can continue to supply them."
"We know that Caye Caulker is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in terms of the tourism industry. They're experiencing rapid growth. We are aware of the situation. Our long-term plan is to interconnect the island to the national electricity grid by early 2021."
BEL is hoping to get its 4th diesel generating unit back on Caye Caulker up and running as soon as possible. That should resolve any further need for load shedding.
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