Sh1 billion sewerage project still in limbo five years later

Senior county and national government officials tour the Meru town sewerage works in August last year. [Wainaina Ndung'u, Standard]
A dispute over the site of a proposed sewerage treatment plant for Meru town has been referred to the Environment Disputes Tribunal.

The Environment and Land Court sitting in Meru pushed the five-year-old case to the tribunal, saying it should be the first port of call for arbitration of such technical matters under the Environment Management and Coordination Act (EMCA), 1999.

In 2014, Rwanyange Residents Self-Help Group chairman Charles Kariuki and Nick Mutiga, an official, had gone to court on behalf of residents to stop construction of the Sh1 billion plant in their area.

The complainants had argued that the Tana Water Services Board and the Meru County Government were undertaking an environmentally destructive project without a licence from the National Environment and Management Authority (Nema).

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Residents also said the project lacked adequate public participation. They claimed the plant would pollute a nearby swamp and River Kanyaritha thus contaminating the water that communities in North Imenti used for domestic purposes and irrigation.

The matter remained unresolved until July last year when Justice Lucy Mbugua issued orders stopping the project after giving the respondents three weeks to produce a Nema licence or lose the case.

In the latest ruling, Justice Mbugua said the contentious license had since been filed by the respondents although the petitioners had protested that it was acquired after the project had commenced.

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“The respondents have a licence but the petitioners consequently want to enjoin Nema in the case,” the judge said.

She also noted that contamination of water sources was a technical matter that was best challenged under EMCA.

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“The nature of the project in question is one that requires deep scrutiny of the completeness of the scientific study for which the Nema licence was issued,” she ruled.

The only other matter that needed to be resolved by the tribunal, the judge added, was whether public participation had been undertaken for the project.

In her ruling, Justice Mbugua marked the petition as concluded and quashed all earlier orders. She ordered the Meru County Government, Tana Water Services Board and two contractors – Hankuk Engineering, and Ecosite Development Consultants – to pay costs of the suit for not having a Nema licence when the matter was filed.

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