Port Maria deserves better than this!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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Given Port Maria's history of flooding, no one should be surprised by what took place there last weekend.

However, residents of the town and its outlying districts have every right to be angry, for it was just under six years ago -- November 23, 2006 to be exact -- that several days of continuous rain caused the Othrum River, which runs through the western end of the seaside town, to overflow its banks, resulting in extensive flooding.

Homes, businesses and streets were overrun by muddy water as a new bridge spanning the Othrum served as a dam of sorts and directed the water into the town, which lies below sea level.

"It took about five minutes or so from the time the water started coming in to the point where it was chest high," reported Sylvia Edwards of the family-owned Edwards Wholesale and Retail Liquor located at 6 Stennett Street, at the time. "We couldn't even get time to shut the door.

"All of a sudden we were watching goods flow through the door, the fridges started floating inside the store, and even the car we had parked outside was washed away," Ms Edwards said, putting the damage to her store at upwards of $8 million.

Similar tales of financial loss and despair were related to us by other business operators and residents, many of whom said that the new bridge -- built as part of the North Coast Highway -- was too low, thus contributing to the flooding.

As was to be expected, the St Mary Parish Council said it could not be held responsible, as it was sidelined for the majority of the planning and building phases of the highway, and was ignored when it raised objections to the construction of the bridge.

True to form, the National Works Agency (NWA), the government body mandated to oversee road construction, said that the bridge was not to be blamed, even as the agency accepted that the bridge was too low.

According to the NWA, the advice it received from British consultancy firm Nicholas O'Dwyer, the project managers for that leg of the North Coast Highway, was that the bridge would be fine.

In response, the Government at the time provided assistance to the residents with relief packages that included cash grants of up to $10,000, as well as food and clothing.

In addition, it appears that some time after, a groyne was constructed to prevent the town from flooding again.

But after last weekend's episode of flooding, residents and business owners are blaming the groyne for their misery. We are not in a position to say whether that is factual or not. What we can say, however, is that it is obvious that the Government needs to commission a proper engineering examination of Port Maria with the aim of correcting the geological faults that trigger flooding there.

For it can't be that each time there is a threat of rain, residents and business owners start worrying that they will lose, or suffer damage to their investments.

Add to that the fact that the North Coast Highway, the main link between St Ann and Portland, runs through Port Maria and one can appreciate the importance of ensuring that there is very little opportunity for disruption of that corridor.

The people of Port Maria and its neighbouring districts deserve better than what now exists. So, too, does the country.




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