Joy and anger

Junction residents happy water project a reality after 18 years, but others protest

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-large
South/Central Bureau

Thursday, October 24, 2019

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JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — Residents of this fast-growing town celebrated yesterday as Prime Minister Andrew Holness formally turned on the Essex Valley Water Supply Project — a scheme which has been 18 years in the making.

But even as Junction relished the coming of what is hoped will be a reliable and consistent supply from the National Water Commission (NWC), a small group in Nain, two miles away, protested bitterly.

The placard-bearing group, including Opposition People's National Party (PNP) councillor for the Myersville Division Layton Smith and caretaker/candidate for St Elizabeth South Eastern Dr Dwaine Spencer, condemned what they said was a “disrespectful” decision to bypass many living closest to the Alpart alumina plant, for whom the water scheme was originally conceptualised.

They pointed out that the original idea for the Essex Valley Water Scheme came out when the late Derrick Rochester (PNP) was Member of Parliament in 2001 because the residents' water catchment tanks were being polluted by bauxite/alumina dust, rendering the water “undrinkable”. For many years Alpart has sought to alleviate the situation with expensive trucked water to residents.

The protesters, mostly PNP supporters, conceded that their own party had let them down badly by not delivering the project, particularly between December 2011 and 2016 when the Portia Simpson Miller-led Government held the reins.

“I am not blaming the Jamaica Labour Party alone, I am blaming my own party too, because the thing start in 2002 (project launch) and now is 2019,” said Smith.

Holness told a jubilant audience in Junction that the project, costing $630 million, will benefit 3,300 households in Junction, Gazeland, Cheapside, Comma Pen, Dunder Hill, Junction, Ballards Valley, and their environs; as well as residents in the Myersville Division, including Myersville (housing scheme), Long Hill, Content, Stephen's Run and Nain.

The prime minister said sections of Myersville communities which were formerly supplied with water from JISCO/Alpart via “inadequate” two-inch galvanised pipes would now fall under the current Essex Valley project run by the NWC.

He emphasised that those who believe that the project was “still a bauxite company project, and therefore the water is free” were mistaken. The Government had taken responsibility for the entire project, he said.

He and other speakers emphasised the need for water bills to be paid.

Holness said previous supplies of NWC water from the New Forest scheme to Gazeland, Cheapside, Comma Pen, Dunder Hill, Junction, and Ballards Valley had been largely compromised by theft and “agricultural draw-off”, necessitating assistance from the Essex Valley scheme.

For Junction, among the fastest-growing communities in south-central Jamaica, inconsistent or non-existent water supply from the NWC has been a huge disadvantage, forcing residents to rely on rainwater storage and/or expensively trucked water. Typically low rainfall in the southern half of St Elizabeth, including Junction, means residents there usually have significant water issues.

Mark Barnett, president of the NWC, told the Jamaica Observer after the function that the water management agency had acted to prevent water theft by rogue farmers by running distribution lines along the main road through Nain to Junction. Distribution lines for other water schemes such as New Forest and Malvern, which are plagued by water thieves, are more direct through “hills and valleys” and bushes.

Barnett said, with the completion of the Junction phase of the Essex Valley Water Scheme, the NWC will now turn to a project closer to the Alpart plant the New Building Water Scheme, which he says should be completed by March/April next year at an additional cost of $85 million.

Barnett said another scheme, which will involve collaboration with JISCO/Alpart, will supply water to communities off “side streets” on the main road close to the Alpart plant. He said details, including money, were yet to be worked out.

“We are working out the details, so we are not sure yet in terms of what JISCO will provide and whether we will need to step in to provide part funding...” he said.

At Nain, protesters were pessimistic, arguing that with the JISCO/Alpart plant now closed for modernisation for what's expected to be at least two years, there were no guarantees.

In fact, Councillor Smith said he and other political representatives had been told by JISCO executives that if the Essex Valley Water Project gets to Junction before reaching communities closest to the Alpart plant “they are not putting their money into it”.

The protesters argued that the decision to bypass New Building and other communities close to the plant was unjust.

Spencer said that regardless of the “past”, now that the current Government had the wherewithal, they should have “done phase one first” before moving on to Junction.

“I am not saying Junction musn't get water, because I have business in Junction,” said Spencer, who has a medical practice, “but the people here (close to the Alpart plant) should have gotten water first”.

At the function in Junction, Holness said he had no issue with implementing a project that had been “conceptualised” by others.

“Regardless of who conceptualised the project we prove them wrong when we do the project and they didn't do it...” he said to laughter and cheers.

“We don't come to argue whose brainchild the project is. If is your brainchild, we give you the credit, but we will always be the ones who deliver the baby, we always want to be the ones to name the baby, we always want to be the ones to grow up the baby. We are the best project fathers in Jamaica...,” he boasted.

Frank Witter, Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Eastern, hailed Holness for his “vision and dedication” in getting the project done. He also heaped praise on former Prime Minister Bruce Golding and former Water Minister Dr Horace Chang for their support during the period 2007-11.


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