Graveyard pushback

Residents demand 200-ft border and wall

Observer staff reporter

Monday, October 22, 2018

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RESIDENTS of Green Acres in Spanish Town, St Catherine, are at odds with Meadowrest Memorial Gardens (MMG) following the burial company's request to the Government for a 7.3-hectare (19-acre) expansion of the cemetery, which borders their community and is now toeing close to capacity.

A meeting between both parties last Sunday failed to assuage concerns that the expansion, which falls within a one-kilometre radius of the community, will contaminate its groundwater resource, drive property values down, cause increased flooding, and worsen noise pollution from periodic blasting and the operation of heavy equipment.

“We recommend that a walk-through of the community be done [with] technical people,” former Green Acres' Citizens Association President Kamau Kambui said. “We demand to speak to the technical people — a civil engineer, landscaper and geologist — who will not shy away if there is a problem.”

The pushback comes six months after the Jamaica Observer broke news that the 23-year-old burial company is looking to diversify its offerings to customers upon approval of the expansion from National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

Meadowrest wants to increase the western end of its operation to approximately 19.8 hectares (49 acres) from the existing 12.15 hectares (30 acres), so as to construct an average of 1,000 single vaults and 1,500 double vaults annually. The burial company is also looking to advance operations at the eastern end of its property.

At the company's annual appreciation brunch for funeral directors in April, newly appointed managing director of Meadowrest, David Parkes also disclosed plans to establish an above-ground columbarium in Whittaker Mountains, also in St Catherine, in response to requests for cremation and inurnment services.

“We see ourselves as a full-service final stop, as it were, for our customers; and our aim is to make the moment as painless as possible,” he said at the time, adding that Meadowrest has also signed off on an arrangement with sister company Shirley Retreat Hotel to offer repast arrangements.

But during a Jamaica Observer tour of the community last week, residents of Green Acres described the company's approach to the planned development as “disgraceful”.

“The Green Acres Citizens' Association was not included in the community survey nor the community consultation staged in March 2018, despite us sharing boundaries with Meadowrest,” president of the Green Acres Citizens' Association, Karen Brown claimed.

“We want to know what are the measures in place to protect our water and to prevent flooding. This house that sits on the boundary has been up for sale from 2012. It's valued at over $30 million and for years the property sat on the market because of its proximity to the cemetery, so the price was reduced to $18 million and it still sits there. Now that the graveyard is expanding, practically into the owner's backyard, it will only makes things worse,” she said, pointing to the property.

The Observer could not independently verify the property's status up to press time last night.

Meanwhile, however, the residents are demanding that Meadowrest develops a plan that will include a border of at least 200 feet and a wall, or vegetation, at least 12-to 15-feet high along said border.

As for the increased storm water run-off that they anticipate, Kambui said: “Meadowrest has already impacted us with silt that is now blocking our drains from the excavation works being done. You need to address downstream as part of your development, which is the clearing of the culvert all the way downstream.”

Green Acres, which became a residential community in the 1970s, has pumping wells within a 2.5-km radius of the cemetery.

NEPA, in its environmental impact assessment, reported that the most significant impact of the expansion could be to groundwater resources. It, however, noted that the practise of sealing vaults, as will be carried out by Meadowrest, offers protection from the potential impact.

The report went on to highlight that, while site run-off is expected to increase 50 to 51 per cent in peak flows for two- to 100-year events when the site if fully developed, they are not significantly large to be of any great concern to downstream developments.

“We are committed to minimising impact from water flow. Our plan is to build a water-retention pond to keep any surface water contained. I can't speak to the specific size, but the water will then be used within our normal operation, irrigation purposes, etc,” Parkes told the residents.

But residents are far from convinced.

“How can you say there will no leaching into the ground water source from the graves? Cement is not water-tight. Until you put admixture you cannot say liquid will not leach through the concrete, so that is not acceptable,” Kambui argued.

“MMG poses several problems to Green Acres: environmental and safety issues. You are going to expand, opening up that area, which is going to expose Green Acres to more security issues. You need to come to us in a serious way. We are not going to sit and argue point for point; we are looking for solutions,” the past president charged.

In its request to NEPA, Meadowrest reasoned that there is urgent need for expansion of the facility, given the present demand of approximately 2,000 interments annually from Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine, 27 per cent of which are at its cemetery. The company reached a record level of burials in 2017.

“This number does not include the population of other parishes and overseas mourners who use the facility,” the report read. “It is well known that there is an increasing shortage of suitable burial space in Kingston and St Andrew, and this was foreseen in the early 1990s by members of the Meadowbrook United Church. Given the number of burials that MMG has been able to accommodate over the years, the need for such a project is self-evident.”

The neighbouring Dovecot Memorial Park has also submitted a request to NEPA to expand its facility to cover 71 acres, which will be separated from the current cemetery by a parochial dirt road and a small settlement which forms part of Bendon Pen district.

Dovecot, in its request, reasoned that it has become critical to expand the existing memorial gardens as the current area used for burials has run out of space.

“Customers are complaining that due to the limited space available, they are not able to choose a location that they deem ideal for their loved ones and funerals are too close together in proximity. Dovecot Memorial Park is one of the main cemeteries that serve people in the parishes of Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine,” it said.

Development of MMG's site, which also has communities such as Frenchman's Cove, St John's Heights, Fraser's Content as neighbours, is slated to occur over the next five years, with an estimated lifespan of 43 years.

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