Patrick Nzioka Kithembe is a resident of Kyondoni sub location, Kivaa location Masinga Sub-County.
He is also a local leader in his village and among those who want the locals involved in the dredging of sand at the Kindaruma Power Station which is owned by the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen).
Kithembe believes the project which is being undertaken by Ravena Agencies and DCMT Limited should entrust the local community with the lion’s share of the sand, estimated at Sh536 million expected to be excavated from the site.
And like majority of his village folk, he wants Kengen to ensure there is adequate security in the area to bar unscrupulous “outsiders’’ from invading the area and carting away tonnes of the valuable commodity at the expense of the local community.
But for Sophie Njeri Mutemi who is the County National Environment Management Authority (Nema) officer, any mega project that borders on people’s livelihoods is too crucial to be rushed through.
Mutemi recently told a County Development Implementation and Coordination Committee (CDICC) delegation that had gone on a site visit to the area on December 16, that the issues surrounding the fate of the ecosystem were of paramount importance and need to be ironed out first.
She told the committee led by Machakos County Commissioner, Fred Ndunga accompanied by other government officials that the authority was ready to issue a license for the commencement of the project any time, once all pertinent issues in regard to environment protection were addressed to satisfaction.
“The company, (KenGen) should take responsibility to ensure there is no encroachment on the river for unregulated sand harvesting for the next two to three years. Whatever we are raising as Nema is for the benefit of the community. It’s a win-win situation. If these issues are addressed we can give out the license even tomorrow,” she told the committee.
But for Isaac Tarus who is the Chief Engineer in charge of Ravena Agencies, the project is well on course and is upbeat proposed works will be completed within the given timeframe.
He said the issues being raised by the community and Nema were being addressed as required by law and what was being witnessed were just common challenges.
“We have no problem with the National Environment Management Authority as at now. We had been told to adhere with some guidelines as required in any Environment Impact Assessment Report. And as for the community, they are just being impatient since they do not understand the government administration structures and procedures,” he said.
According to KenGen Chief Environment Officer Hussein Sommow, the tender to desilt the dam was mooted back in 2012 and the tender afterwards awarded jointly to Ravena Agencies and DCMT.
The contractors were mandated to undertake the works within a period of two years with a possibility of an extension.
Terms of the contract included reclaiming 40 per cent of the original dam site which had been clogged up over the years through siltation.
The project would involve dredging out 20 feet of sand equivalent to 5.7 million tonnes of sand and another 5.5 million tonnes of silt.
At the end of the project, KenGen hopes to reclaim a total of 6.4 million square meters of land for its 165 Mw power station through an injection of 18 million liters of water.
And while the power generating company is the main client, it is the contractors who will have to pay KenGen through the proceeds accrued from the sale of sand.
The complex procedure would involve separating the sand from silt through a formula known as the cyclone process.
And while the sand will be sold out to the local community, the tonnes of silt will be pumped back to fill the adjacent derelict quarries situated along the dam’s course and which are part of the issues being raised by Nema.
“Part of our agreement with the contractor was to sell the sand after the separation process which will be done through the cyclone process. We are not paying any coin to the contractor but on the contrary he will be paying us back while the community will benefit from three watering points which we shall sink at a cost of Sh. 50 million,’’ revealed Sommow.
The locals will also be considered for any unskilled job opportunities that will arise when the actual works ensue as part of the company’s social responsibility.
Engineers overseeing the implementation of the main works are waiting for the shipping of major equipment to the site, including a dredging vehicle and an amphibian water master which form the main engine of the reclamation process.
Masinga Deputy County Commissioner John Ayienda says once the project gets on course, the local community stands to gain enormously.
Ayienda says the grievances being raised by the locals emanate from their strong attachment with sand which is one of the economic undertakings in the area.
But the administrator believes the matter has only been blown out of proportion by local political leaders who have been inciting the locals to demand a larger stake in the running of the project, owing to their ignorance on government policies on infrastructure development.
“Sand harvesting is an economic activity close to the heart of the local community who live here. If they see sand being scooped from any site nearby, they will demand to have a share of it. But once educated on the benefits they stand to gain, they will fully support it to the end,” he added.
But Ndunga has some words of caution to those planning to incite the public in undermining the progress of the project.
He said any person regardless of his social or political status who will try to interfere with any government infrastructure risks prosecution in line with the country’s applicable law.
“As a community living here, you will continue receiving clean water from this dam. In addition, the sand that will be excavated from this site will be sold to you. Therefore, in case of any complaint, ensure you direct your grievances to the right office. Otherwise our officers will be on standby to deal with any troublemakers,” he warned.
As for people like Kithembe, their earnest prayer is for the dredging to start as soon as possible, so that they can be the first people to rake a fortune from the multi-million sweet deal.
By Samuel Maina