Water supply brings added energy to Junction

Water supply brings added energy to Junction

...as a St Elizabeth community grows

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor at Large
South Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 18, 2020

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JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — Frank Witter knows that as was the case for other Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) winners in the September 3 General Election, the popularity of Prime Minister Andrew Holness contributed immensely to his success.

But he also recognises the impact that piped water supply had on his retention of the St Elizabeth South Eastern (SE) constituency – previously considered marginal – by a staggering 2,702 votes. That's more than 13 times the 205 vote margin of his victory in 2016.

Witter believes the arrival of piped National Water Commission (NWC) water to Junction – the largest town in the Elizabeth SE constituency – and several other communities in October of 2019 triggered a decisive political shift.

“Once you put water anywhere in St Elizabeth, especially the south, you have greatly improved lives...and that's what happened here last year...the people were crying out for water,” Witter told the Jamaica Observer.

Beyond party politics, the arrival of water to Junction via the Essex Valley water scheme, first launched way back in 2001, has greatly propelled what was already a fast- expanding community. The town, remembered as a quiet, slow-moving village less than 40 years ago, thrives on the back of an industrious farming sector and a steady stream of well-to-do returning residents from Britain and North America.

Also, alumina production at Alpart in neighbouring Nain, owned by Chinese metals giant Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) currently closed awaiting modernisation has been a driver for Junction.

In August, councillor for the Junction Division in the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation, Cetany Holness, painted a vivid verbal picture of his community's surge since the coming of NWC water last year, despite the debilitating threat of the novel coronavirus.

“Since the water came into existence we have eight new plazas gone up in Junction, and more to come,” he told the Sunday Observer. Holness claimed Junction is not only the fastest-growing town in Jamaica but also “probably the Caribbean”.

A significant symbol of business confidence in the town is the planned opening of an outlet for mega, fast-food operators, KFC, in early December.

When contacted, KFC's Tina Matalon gave no exact opening date but told the Sunday Observer by e-mail last week that: “We are aiming for the first week [of December]. So, an early Christmas present for the town!”

Back in 2013, then Member of Parliament (MP) for St Elizabeth South Eastern, Richard Parchment (Peoples National Party – PNP) – who at the time had confidently expected to complete delivery of water to Junction – said the coming of water would trigger a rush of fast foods and other restaurants to Junction.

Witter, Holness and other community leaders now say KFC will signal the start of that rush.

It's not that it's the first time an NWC water project has been allocated for Junction. Many years ago the New Forest scheme aiming to pipe water into Bull Savannah and Junction was stymied by farmers stealing water on the lower, eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The loss of the New Forest scheme left people in Junction and surrounding communities with no option but to rely on uncertain rainwater harvesting in one of the driest areas of Jamaica, as well as expensive trucked water.

That led political representatives of both the JLP and PNP and planners to turn to the Essex Valley water scheme, which originates at a well field in Northampton, in order to serve Junction. In the process, NWC water has bypassed a number of communities closest to the Alpart plant in Myersville, for whom the Essex Valley scheme was originally planned close to 20 years ago.

The move triggered bitter resentment among many in Myersville, who say the original idea for the water scheme – a partnership of Government and Alpart – was motivated by the reality of contaminants from alumina production, polluting residents' rainwater tanks.

Witter insists that the complaints in Myersville are already being dealt with. Residents of the Myersville housing scheme are being served by the water scheme as well as communities close to the water main on the main road from Myersville to Junction, he said.

The MP believes all will be well when funds become available to complete distribution to districts at a distance from the water main.

In Junction, such concerns are secondary. Back in August, as unconfirmed reports circulated of KFC's coming, a pushcart soup vendor, who identified himself only as “Soupy”, selling an exotic, tasty “all-grain” mix of corn, peanuts, soya beans and red peas, smiled broadly when the subject came up.

“That good,” he said, “the town growing”.

Soupy laughed when asked if he was worried about competition.

“My business special...” he said, “Whe mi sell, KFC nuh sell, plus mi sell cheaper.”

Yet for all the light-hearted optimism, there are serious concerns. Like many other rural towns, congestion is growing in Junction, largely as a result of vendors and taxi operators, who find it more profitable to stay in the town centre rather than the designated market and parking areas.

Witter concedes there are no easy fixes to those issues.

“It's going to be difficult because where they [vendors and taxi drivers] are, is where the people are,” he said.

Witter also sees the need for an urgent upgrade of the police station, which shares space with other entities on rented premises.

At the health centre, he also wants an upgrade with the addition of an accident and emergency unit.

For many in Junction and surrounding comunities, crime – which rears its head from time to time – is an ongoing concern.

Back in 2013, Lorna Powell, a supervisor at Intown supermarket, exulted about the growth of the town.

“Just over 30 years ago [in Junction] there was no police station, no fire station, no Courts, no Singer, no Scotiabank, no Intown, no plaza...it was just bush,” Powell told the Observer back then.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer more recently, Powell remained proud of Junction's growth but reflected soberly on the crime threat.

“Even though Junction is growing and growing so fast, you realise the crime growing with it,” she said.

She argued that policing strategies should be altered and beefed up as the town grows.

“We need to look at the security force. Questions need to be asked: Is police ready for Junction in terms of the growth?” said Powell.

But according to Witter, while he understands the fears, and recognises that criminals are likely to strike occasionally, he is confident that they will never prosper in Junction and the wider southern St Elizabeth.

The MP identified a dominant value system, which encourages hard work, a fierce sense of independence and pride, as well as a liking for good order, among his reasons.

“Mi born and grow here and I don't believe crime can sustainably succeed here, although you will have the one-off incidents [especially by criminals passing through],” he said.

“It's difficult for criminals to find safe haven here, the culture of the people just doesn't support it,” Witter said.


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