ST Thomas-based quarry operators are calling on the Government to decommission the weigh scale which has been placed at the Harbour View roundabout until scales are placed in all parishes.
Pre Mix Director John Valentine, speaking yesterday at a press conference at his company's offices on Molynes Road in Kingston, said if the situation continues the entire economy of St Thomas will suffer.
"We are asking, please, that the scale be decommissioned until the government is in a position to put scales in the 14 parishes. All we are asking for is a level playing field," Valentine said.
The scale was installed after Government officials complained that heavy-duty trucks loaded with material were destroying the main road from St Thomas to Kingston. However, the operators contend that roads in St Thomas have been in a deplorable state for more than a decade.
However, Valentine said the quarry operators were prepared to pay a fee per ton of material to the Road Maintenance Fund. "None of us have a problem with that as a temporary measure," he said.
A meeting is tentatively planned with officials from the ministry next week, but the operators have made a pre-emptive strike by seeking audience with the Fair Trading Commission on the matter.
The operators contend that basaltic granite sand, which is mined from the Yallahs and Morant rivers, is of the highest quality in the island and is used for asphalt 'super' paving and is being sought by contractors in the United States, Trinidad, Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos islands.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Transport and Works announced that a portable weigh scale would be brought on stream and placed at strategic points in the island. Another scale is set to come on stream in the near future but the operators said such a plan is a band-aid fix for a problem that has effectively crippled their businesses and would do little to drag the quarry operators out of the deep economic hole they have found themselves in.
"A portable weigh station is a little thing. It is two pieces of metal that can hold in the back of a pickup truck. They are flimsy and it will be put in place for a few hours. It is not sustainable...," Valentine said.
The operators complained that since the Government has installed the weigh station for trucks at Harbour View, their businesses have all but folded.
The operators said a number of truck drivers have stopped coming to St Thomas for material since the installation of the weigh scale, saying truckers are now going to quarries in rural St Andrew and Clarendon for material due to the increased cost of hauling material from St Thomas.
"Ever since the implementation of the weigh scale, business has been down 90 per cent. We have had to lay off 30 persons. Why should somebody come to my quarry and get harassed and they can go somewhere else and get it cheaper? They are not coming?" Clive Johnson, owner of Coast to Coast Quarry said.
The operators said that overall quarry operators have sent home 100 workers since the drop in business because of the weigh station.
"The restaurant owners, bar owners, the tyre repairmen, the gas stations, everyone is feeling the pinch. St Thomas has always been a slow parish and now things will get even worse," said Donovan Matthews, operations manager at Jamaica Aggregates Ltd.