Dealing with Black Water
Several Companies and Projects Lead the Way for Roatan to Take Charge of its Refuse

February 1st, 2011
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private]

While many Roatanians don’t know and don’t care to think about what happens to their toilet refuse once it is flushed, it affects all of their futures. The fringing reef that has encompassed the island for millions of year has been under increased stressed in the last 20 years. The growing population density and inadequate septic standards have decreased the water quality, increased water algae and degraded fish and coral.
While large world bank projects brought sanitation and desalinization plants to Coxen Hole, the management of these resources proved “too complex” for the local authorities. “We have maybe 2-3% percent of the entire Coxen Hole population hooked up to the black water plant,” admits Mayor of Roatan Julio Galindo. One of the problems: the paving of the streets in Cozen Hole made it difficult if not impossible to connect new homes to the main sewage lines. Additionally, funding for the project didn’t assist individuals in connecting their pipes to the municipal lines.
The biggest problem Roatan is facing is the combination of high density habitation close to marine and reef environments. Since 2006 ACME Environmental Solutions has increased its experience in providing large and small scale solutions for the island’s septic challenges. ACME has provided septic systems at Keyhole Bay, West Bay Mall and 24 residential homes throughout the island. Things are only getting busier for the company as both Mahogany Bay and Megaplaza consider contracting ACME to solve their improperly designed septic systems, some just a year-and-a-half in operation.
Another area ACME hopes to expand to is in the design and maintenance of municipal and municipally funded septic systems. “We [The Municipality] doesn’t have the capacity to manage the infrastructure projects,” admits Mayor Galindo. The Roatan Municipality has already hired ACME to design a decentralized municipal septic system on Antony’s Cay and Bailey’s Cay.
Privatization of the management of municipal septic, waste and water systems has been on the agenda for several years, but goes against the grain of many Honduran officials.  “Julio [Galindo] understands it in concept, but has difficulty allowing the corporation to take the next step,” says Dan Taylor, owner of ACME
The real litmus test for Roatan’s ability to manage its sewage is West Bay. The internationally known, high-end community developed without a master plan and with many property developers disregarding building codes and development laws. The majority of West Bay’s buildings are located on reclaimed marsh and are resting on land that is only a couple feet above sea level. The natural drainage of West Bay, the West Bay creek, has been cut off, a constant source of complains.
One of the more interesting, alternative methods in septic treatment in the Bay Islands can be found in the hills overlooking West Bay. Part of Infinity Bay, a 160-condominium development in West Bay, was designed as a horizontal flow wetlands area by Vern Albert, one of five owners. Five of the seven acres of Infinity Bay are used for these wetlands, which resemble a meandering forest creek filled with rocks and lined with plants.
The entire cleaning process begins at the buildings with three septic tanks per building. Then the black water is then lifted by a pump to 40′ onto a forested hill overlooking the development and into a meandering “wetland like” environment.
“I’m self taught and driven by this stuff. I am really turning s-t into Shinola,” says Albert of his job. With wild, gray hair Albert admits to having 26 occupations in his lifetime and feels that this varied experience has prepared him for the complexity of working on a project like this. “Combat engineering is what I do.”
“We need more wetlands, dragonflies, bats and frogs … that’s what I love,” says Albert, while turning over leaves of dieffenbachia and coco plants that grow in the gravel and break down the bacteria. Albert says that the environment, especially trees, are introducing bacteria into his system that eliminate the continued need to purchase “expensive bacteria like the Pirana.”
Vern Albert looks over Infinity Bay's horizontal flow structured wetlands that brake down the septic matter

Vern Albert looks over Infinity Bay's horizontal flow structured wetlands that brake down the septic matter

While many Roatanians don’t know and don’t care to think about what happens to their toilet refuse once it is flushed, it affects all of their futures. The fringing reef that has encompassed the island for millions of year has been under increased stressed in the last 20 years. The growing population density and inadequate septic standards have decreased the water quality, increased water algae and degraded fish and coral.

While large world bank projects brought sanitation and desalinization plants to Coxen Hole, the management of these resources proved “too complex” for the local authorities. “We have maybe 2-3% percent of the entire Coxen Hole population hooked up to the black water plant,” admits Mayor of Roatan Julio Galindo. One of the problems: the paving of the streets in Cozen Hole made it difficult if not impossible to connect new homes to the main sewage lines. Additionally, funding for the project didn’t assist individuals in connecting their pipes to the municipal lines.

The biggest problem Roatan is facing is the combination of high density habitation close to marine and reef environments. Since 2006 ACME Environmental Solutions has increased its experience in providing large and small scale solutions for the island’s septic challenges. ACME has provided septic systems at Keyhole Bay, West Bay Mall and 24 residential homes throughout the island. Things are only getting busier for the company as both Mahogany Bay and Megaplaza consider contracting ACME to solve their improperly designed septic systems, some just a year-and-a-half in operation.

Another area ACME hopes to expand to is in the design and maintenance of municipal and municipally funded septic systems. “We [The Municipality] doesn’t have the capacity to manage the infrastructure projects,” admits Mayor Galindo. The Roatan Municipality has already hired ACME to design a decentralized municipal septic system on Antony’s Cay and Bailey’s Cay.

Privatization of the management of municipal septic, waste and water systems has been on the agenda for several years, but goes against the grain of many Honduran officials.  “Julio [Galindo] understands it in concept, but has difficulty allowing the corporation to take the next step,” says Dan Taylor, owner of ACME

The real litmus test for Roatan’s ability to manage its sewage is West Bay. The internationally known, high-end community developed without a master plan and with many property developers disregarding building codes and development laws. The majority of West Bay’s buildings are located on reclaimed marsh and are resting on land that is only a couple feet above sea level. The natural drainage of West Bay, the West Bay creek, has been cut off, a constant source of complains.

One of the more interesting, alternative methods in septic treatment in the Bay Islands can be found in the hills overlooking West Bay. Part of Infinity Bay, a 160-condominium development in West Bay, was designed as a horizontal flow wetlands area by Vern Albert, one of five owners. Five of the seven acres of Infinity Bay are used for these wetlands, which resemble a meandering forest creek filled with rocks and lined with plants.

The entire cleaning process begins at the buildings with three septic tanks per building. Then the black water is then lifted by a pump to 40′ onto a forested hill overlooking the development and into a meandering “wetland like” environment.

“I’m self taught and driven by this stuff. I am really turning s-t into Shinola,” says Albert of his job. With wild, gray hair Albert admits to having 26 occupations in his lifetime and feels that this varied experience has prepared him for the complexity of working on a project like this. “Combat engineering is what I do.”

“We need more wetlands, dragonflies, bats and frogs … that’s what I love,” says Albert, while turning over leaves of dieffenbachia and coco plants that grow in the gravel and break down the bacteria. Albert says that the environment, especially trees, are introducing bacteria into his system that eliminate the continued need to purchase “expensive bacteria like the Pirana.” [/private]

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