Highway 2000 land acquisition fuels anger
Most likely, the people who live in Vanity Fair in Linstead are comfortable and probably have no intention of moving. That, however, changed for some of them last month when the firm building the north-south leg of Highway 2000 acquired land for the multi-million dollar project and demolished buildings in its path.
Angered by the development, some of the displaced residents met with National Road Operating and Construction Company (NROCC) and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) officials at Bread of Life Ministries, in Vanity Fair, recently to discuss their concerns.
"Moving affects our lives... they should give us compensation to start over our lives," one resident, Latoya Clarke, told the Jamaica Observer after the meeting.
She said the relocation will cost her and her family more money to go about their daily business, pointing to a $300 increase in taxi fare she now faces, to make her point.
"When dem did come an' a ask, dem ask how the moving a go affect our children and schooling an' all a dem tings deh," another resident fumed.
"No, dem nuh really concern 'bout we enuh, dem nuh concerned," one woman uttered, when the Observer asked a group of residents if they had spoken to anyone in authority about the issues.
Another resident, who did not give her name, said she had built a one-bedroom, concrete structure for her and her son. That, however, was demolished. She said that earlier that evening she and her son were pulling steel from the rubble to "help start over".
Jennifer Fraser, who admitted she was squatting on the land, said she was dissatisfied with what she was given as compensation.
"Weh dem give me, miss, it can't even start mi house," Fraser said, explaining that she received $500,000 after she moved and $75,000 to help with rent.
But managing director of NROCC, Ivan Anderson, told the Observer that when an agreement is reached between the occupant and NROCC, the resident is provided with rental assistance and trucking services to help with relocation.
He said within five to 10 days after evacuation, the individual is compensated for their structure. He said all displaced persons are dealt with in the same manner.
"Normally we give them three months for temporary rent to allow them to find a place and after they have moved we give them the market value for the structure," Anderson said.
Fraser is currently living in a rented house, and said she does not know from where the funds for the next rent will come.
Glenton Rose, another NROCC representative, said that the firm was in dialogue with some of the residents and in a number of cases has assisted them in getting land titles if they were unable to produce one.
He said he and his team were available to community members and were willing to arrive at an amicable solution with them.
Dennis Mighty, a resident, asked the NROCC and CHEC officials whether there was a time period within which he had to comply to evacuate his land after receiving the notice for land acquisition.
"There is no set time to get off," said Rose. "I can't think of any case where there is less than three months. I'm tempted to say six, but no less than three months to move."
He said that in cases where people have difficulty making suitable arrangements to leave, "as best as we (NROCC) possibly can, we try to work with the occupants; however, there comes a time when we have to make some decisions, because the Government has signed on to an agreement for the construction of the highway".
The 27.9-kilometre highway will stretch from Caymanas in St Catherine to Mammee Bay in St Ann, crossing over the Rio Cobre and bypassing Flat Bridge and Mount Rosser. It will pass through the communities of Waterloo, Content, Giblatore, Wakefield and Vanity Fair in St Catherine.
This leg of the highway is expected to be finished by the beginning of 2016 and open to the public by June of the same year. It will have three bridges, an interchange and under/overpasses.
According to NROCC's website, over 450 parcels of land and 284 structures were estimated to be affected by the highway.
Under the Land Acquisition Act, the Government has the right to issue a notice for the acquisition of people's land and "is not required by law to resettle persons who have been disrupted/uprooted/displaced due to land acquisition". The law, though, requires that they be compensated.
During the meeting, one resident asked about the environmental impact and whether construction would disrupt traffic in Vanity Fair.
Raul Brito, technical advisor to NROCC, replied that the workers were expected to water the site at least four times daily to minimise dust pollution.
Errol Mortley, NROCC's environmental health and safety manager, told the resident that his company was working with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to control the level of pollution during the construction. He also assured her that the road would not be closed for construction.
Sophia Azan, custos of St Catherine, and Noel Sign, who both own land close to the construction, aired concerns for the security of their properties when the work begins.
They were told that buildings and properties close to the highway would not be affected, as CHEC would install temporary fencing.
"If you have an issue, call us, we will respond to you and try to visit," Mortley encouraged the residents.
He also told them that they could use an Environmental Permit to make complaints to NEPA if they had concerns about the project.
"The Environmental permit... gives you the opportunity to raise your concern to either NROCC or to NEPA... the permit is a public document and you have the right as a citizen to raise your concerns to any of these parties to have [them] addressed," Mortley told the meeting.
He said that the permit made no provision for CHEC to work in the Vanity Fair area for 24 hours. The work, he added, would run from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.