Gibraltar is finally pushing ahead with construction of a sewage treatment plant, with the Gibraltar Government signing a contract for the final design of the facility and construction work set to start within months for completion by 2020.
Gibraltar’s lack of a wastewater treatment plant has been the subject of controversy in recent years, even leading to infraction proceedings by the European Union.
Although this project has been on the table since 2014, progress has been complex because of the need to develop special bacteria able to survive in the salt water used to flush Gibraltar’s toilets.
At a press conference at No.6 Convent Place yesterday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and the Minister for Environment, Dr John Cortes, announcement the project was now ready to move to the next phase.
The Gibraltar Government has awarded an Advanced Works Contract to the joint venture between NWG Commercial Services Limited [Northumbrian Water] and Modern Water.
The contract covers the design and survey work required for final planning and environmental approvals as well as preliminary site works.
“I am very happy to see that our detailed work in respect of this matter is now going to see progress in the treatment of wastewater,” Mr Picardo said.
“It has taken us time to be able to progress this as we had to start literally from scratch and the technical aspects of the work required were extraordinarily complex and challenging.”
The odourless plant will be located at the Brewery Crusher site near Europa Point. The plant will be “covered and not impact negatively and probably provide some new opportunities for the area,” Dr Cortes said.
Addressing concerns over the impact, if any, it would have on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chief Minister said: “The design of the facility is going to be very sensitively done, it is not something that needs to have much height and it is going to be very easy to blend into the environment around the area.”
He added that Dr Cortes has done a lot of work on all the areas around the UNESCO site “which is hugely important to the Government, a huge recognition of Gibraltar’s contribution to world heritage.”
The uniqueness of Gibraltar’s salt water system meant that a special bacteria had to be developed that will break down the sewage but also survive the saline content. Most of the world uses fresh water in their waste systems.
Modern Water, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, made an announcement on the contract to investors yesterday morning.
The contract marks the start of the final steps before work can commence on the overall project, which is for the design, build and operation of a wastewater treatment plant, capable of treating urban wastewater as well as storm flows.
Dr Cortes took pride in making the announcement.
“I am delighted to be able to announce this important step forward for this vital project, which honours the commitment made by this government,” he said.
“On a personal note, as an environmentalist, I take huge pride in being a part of leading the further development of Gibraltar’s environmental credentials and the delivery of Gibraltar’s wastewater treatment works.”
In October 2014, the joint venture between the two companies was announced following a tender process.
Modern Water is responsible for the design and build portion of the contract, which has an aggregate tender value to Modern Water of approximately £22 million. On completion, Northumbrian Water will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the plant for 20 years.
“We are delighted to announce such a significant step towards delivering this important project for the people of Gibraltar.
Together with our partners at Northumbrian Water, we now look forward to working closely with the Government of Gibraltar to finalise the main Design, Build and Operate contract,” said Simon Humphrey, Modern Water’s CEO.
The fact that items such as baby wipes are being flushed down toilets on the Rock was also factored into the treatment plant.
“There is an initial screening stage which will enable the sewage plant to collect wipes and any other type of debris which could impact the actual treatment system itself,” he said.
The Chief Minister added that the “problem we have with wipes and debris does not actual manifest itself at the moment of effluent into the sea, it manifests itself in clogging up our sewage and pipes long before it gets to where it would be collected by the treatment plant.”
“People need to bear that in mind when they are flushing things down that loo that do not make sense to most people,” he added.
The Government launched a campaign aimed at preventing further damage to the Rock’s sewage system in October 2015.
Using Dwaine Pipe, a cartoon sewage pipe who is fed up of people flushing down the toilet items other than the three P’s – Paper, Pee, Poo. When a person flushes anything else such as baby wipes, sanitary products, nappies, cooking oil and paint Dwaine Pipe gets sick.
On any potential extra cost to end users, the Chief Minister explained that the Government needs to understand first how the operation of the plant will manifest itself in costs.
“There may be a requirement that there is a cost to the end user but that is not something that the Government has yet determined,” he said.
“But, maybe in the future there may have to be a consideration of there being a cost related to the facilities operation.”
Local and global environmentalists alike welcomed the news.
Lewis Pugh, the UN Patron the Seas, told the Chronicle: “I think the view from Europa Point is one of the most amazing views in the whole world.”
“But, the sewerage discharge there was such a blight and obviously so harmful to marine life.”
Local environmental group the ESG said in a statement to the Chronicle: “The ESG is obviously delighted to hear today’s announcement regarding the awarding of the contract for our much needed Sewage Treatment Plant.”
“It has been a core objective of the group and we have lobbied for this for over 15 years following the matter very closely.”
“We look forward to discussing this further with the Minister for the Environment and his team and will be interested to learn more details about the project.”
The Nautilus Project also welcomed the announcement: “Sewage treatment is a modern-day requirement to minimise the harmful effects of untreated effluent in the marine environment.”
“Locally, this will prevent many wet wipes from littering our coastal zones whilst also removing the unsightly brown plume and smells associated with a popular tourist area.”