Sand buildup is causing blockage and shallowness in the Vaisigano River, which during natural disasters can cause catastrophic flooding and damage to the residents who live along the riverbank.
That is the comment made by Nathan Wilson, whose family was directly affected by floodwaters during Tropical Cyclone Gita.
According to Mr. Wilson, after the cyclone the debris and sand build up caused the water to flood into the surrounding properties in Lelata such as the Galuvao Property, Ah-Him Papa’s Store through Maagao, Leone, Faatoia and out to Matautu area and Apia Park.
In writing on February 8 before the cyclone arrived in the early hours of February 10, Mr. Wilson reached out to the Disaster Management Office team to assist in unblocking the river after it overflowed into their property.
They asked for help from the Ministry to remove any blockages, particularly a rock wall that contractors employed by E.P.C. has put in place before the river junction at Lelata bridge, which according to Mr. Wilson, was acting like a filter, holding back sand and debris and if it’s part of an ongoing project, such fixtures should then be removed after their work is completed especially during rainy season.
“There is a block that caused an overflow of water,” said Mr. Wilson. “There is a buildup of trees that built up and because there was that block there, all the sand blocked as well as trees. They have cleared the trees that were uprooted by the cyclone but they have let them flow down the river. Basically if they don’t clear up the sand and logs, if another cyclone or flood happens, the same thing will happen. Gita was only a Category 1, but the damage was as if it was a Category 3 or 4.
“The river was deeper than it used to be, but the sand has built up a metre than it used to be and it’s just going to keep building up. So no matter how high they build that wall, it’s not really helping the clearing of the buildup."
The Samoa Observer reached out to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment C.E.O, Ulu Bismarck Crawley, who said the wall is the responsibility of the E.P.C but that specialists were looking into the issue.
“The project is still in progress with the construction of the wall. The specialists are looking into the issue observed,” said Ulu.
“The ministry is responsible for segment one of the wall, Vaisigano Bridge up to Leone Bridge and the overall and paramount objective of the wall is to protect families and homes from flooding from the river especially those on low-lying areas.
“Endorsement by the communities of this objective facilitates the approval of these projects and the Government extends its appreciation to all development partners involved for their assistance.”
While the Wilsons and the surrounding families welcome the wall, Nathan believes putting up a wall will not solve all the problems and he points to other areas of blockages such as Black Sand Beach strip that worsen the flooding issues of Vaisigano River.
It’s not so much the wall, it’s these other initiatives too with Black Sand beach, with the sand blocking the river it’s like a wall and you have this dirty water flowing down from Vaoala, all the way from Alaoa coming down and obviously the dirt is riding at the bottom of the water which is hitting this black sand here and it’s just building up as the water is clearing out. It just back logs.
After Cyclone Evan, the Government passed a law that banned sand mining which makes it difficult to dredge sand where it accumulates along the harbor.
“You look around town now and it’s blocked with sand,” Wilson said.
“That’s a picture of Black Sand Beach right now in front of Vaisigano. Obviously, it is the length of three quarters of the beach. The other photo taken in 2011 before Black Sand Beach, there were no sand, it was deep, and the river was fine.”
In 2014, there was opposition to the Black Sand Beach project which was meant to attract tourists with recommendations from the coastal infrastructure planning reports and flood planning reports against man made beaches along the waterfront in Apia across from Sheraton Aggie Greys Hotel.
“Thank you for your observation which we will take note of. Relevant specialists who were involved in the design of the project will revisit these issues. Relevant action will be informed upon assessments. It is a question of the rate and time on when and how they are piled up and how they are being withdrawn back to the sea,” Ulu said.