News

Dumped! Sprawling landfill threatens to shelve plans for villa

Jamaica unfriendly to investors, complains Morant Bay returned resident

INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 18, 2013    

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WHEN George Ross and his wife Thyra quit their jobs in Bermuda and relocated to Jamaica, they had plans to immediately begin operating a guest house in Morant Bay, St Thomas.

Their intention was not only to offer guests a unique experience in this oft-forgotten parish, but to provide employment.

The plan was to model the business on the five-star Fairmont Hotel chain, in which Ross worked for decades. Three years on, however, the Orange Blossom Guest House and Off the Hook Sea Food Restaurant, which are within walking distance of the town, are yet to open its doors as a nearby landfill is encroaching on the multimillion-dollar investment, threatening to spill tonnes of garbage onto the property.

"People from all over the world who we are affiliated with, because of the hotel I used to work at, are always calling us to ask when the place opening up and we just don't know what to tell them," Ross said.

According to him, the plan was to construct a pool and do some further expansion to the property, which consists of eight suites -- four two-bedroom units, four one-bedrooms, and three cottages. But the work has been halted as the couple is unable to continue spending when they have no idea if, or when, they will ever get any returns. And while they wait on the authorities to address the situation, the Rosses said they have still had to find more funds to renovate the property to prevent it from falling into disrepair.

"Right now I only have one staff here to maintain the grounds because I can't keep spending money that is not coming back in," he said.

On top of that, Ross said everyday he is approached by residents asking for jobs at the guest house when it opens.

Ross, who recently took the Jamaica Observer North East on a tour of the three-and-a-half-acre property, said 15 years ago when he bought the land to build the villas, the dump was a very small heap and was located a far distance away.

"This area was green land and up to seven years ago you could see green grass all over," he said.

Today, the landfill, which is located just a stone's throw from the main road and residential communities, is brimming over.

In the last four years, Ross said dump trucks have worked around the clock transporting garbage to the site and before long the landfill had spread so close to the property that they have been forced to erect a wall to prevent it from spilling onto the property.

The couple said despite early complaints to the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), Member of Parliament Dr Fenton Ferguson and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, nothing has been done to address the problem. What irks him the most, Ross said, is the fact that he decided to invest in Jamaica on the urging of former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who asked Jamaicans to return home to build the country.

He had left Jamaica at age 18 for Bermuda, where he lived for some 45 years, but said he immediately responded to the call given his patriotism to the land of his birth.

"The thing that gets to me the most is to see that the former prime minister asked us to come home and build Jamaica and we come and spend millions of dollars for nothing," he said.

Ross said not even his employer at the hotel chain where he worked for 43 years and his eight brothers who are living abroad could dissuade him from returning to invest in Jamaica.

"My boss say 'take a year off and leave your benefits here and go see what it is like first', but I told him 'no' because my country needs me," he said.

The holder of a US green card and British citizenship, Ross and his Bermuda-born wife came to Jamaica to get the business up and running.

The plan, he said, was to incorporate locals living on the property as well as short-stay tourists.

"My dream was also to open a gourmet restaurant right here," he said, pointing to a building which sits closest to the landfill.

Ross said not only is the landfill unsightly, but it also poses health hazards, as there are times when it is on fire and spews stifling smoke.

"When it is engulfed the smoke is so thick you can't see anything," Ross said.

He said he was bewildered about why the authorities have not made any attempts to correct the situation so his business can get off the ground, given that it would provide employment for at least 15 persons in this parish where employment is low.

Ross said he has been in dialogue with the head of the NSWMA, Jennifer Edwards, who has been to see the site.

Edwards, he said, promised that the landfill would have been pushed away from the property and greenery planted in its place.

"I called again and she said the plan to do it had to be pushed back because of Hurricane Sandy clean-up, but I have not heard back from her and I am tired of waiting for something to be done," a frustrated Ross told the Observer North East.

"My wife is my source of strength. Otherwise, I would just sell it and leave," he said in despair.

He also lamented the fact that the Member of Parliament, who is also the health minister, had also promised to deal with the matter.

Adrian Grant, regional manager of the NSWMA recently informed the Parish Council meeting that they have been receiving several complaints about the landfill. He noted , however, that lands have been located in Albion in the parish, for it to be located but no timeline has been set for this to happen.

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott also promised to address the matter after Ross complained to him during a tour of sections of Morant Bay, near two weeks ago.

Ross said he has advised others against investing in Jamaica given the unwillingness of the authorities to respond to people's concerns.

"I know all these people with money who I met during my years of working in the hotel industry and I tell them to leave their money there and only come on vacation because your money is not appreciated as an investor in Jamaica," he said.

He added: "For all the money I have spent on this investment, we could be travelling the world off the interest and not have this headache."

As a Bermudian, Mrs Ross said she is not accustomed to authorities dragging their feet.

"In Bermuda, if the government says 'we are going to do something', it is going to be done," she said.

According to her, a stream which used to run through the property dried up as a result of the landfill.

"I used to enjoy sitting and watching the shrimp in the stream and now it's all gone," she said.

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