'Injustice'

Haddo, Mackfield residents cry foul over road project, National Works Agency says many without titles

BY MARK CUMMINGS
Editor-at-Large

Thursday, January 31, 2019

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HADDO, Westmoreland — Residents of Haddo and Mackfield in Westmoreland are warning that “the strongest possible action will be taken” if the Government does not move speedily to address a number of worrying issues, including non-payment for lands being used as part of the $3 billion road rehabilitation project in the area.

While stressing that they are not against the rehabilitation of the 14-km roadway, which runs from Ferris Cross to Mackfield, the residents cited a number of inadequacies in the execution of the project.

“Somebody needs to step in now and do what is necessary, what is right, or else the project could end up in chaos, calamity and delay,” warned Castelle Knight, the pastor of the Shiloah Church of the Nazarene in Haddo.

“This kind of carelessness, this kind of injustice, this kind of disrespect for the people must stop, or else… The people have been holding strain, they are now fed up and want to take action.”

During a tour of the communities earlier this week, several area residents told the Jamaica Observer West that portions of their land have been excavated without prior warning and negotiation.

The excavations, some say, have left them without suitable access to their homes.

“Some of the residents are left with no proper access to their homes, some of the houses are left on cliffs because of excavation. They (workers on the project) have butchered a wide variety of fruit trees and not one single resident has been paid for one.

They have also encroached on the people's land without notice, and not one of them has been paid, nor do they know how much of their land has been taken, and when, and if, they will be paid,” said Knight, who has been pastoring at the church for almost a decade.

The road multimillion reconstruction project, which commenced in April 2018, involves a significant widening of the road, as well as the construction of retaining walls and major improvement in the drainage systems and pedestrian walkways.

The project, managed by the National Works Agency, is being executed under the Major Infrastructure Development Programme, and is being undertaken by the China Harbour Engineering Company Limited.

The roadway forms part of the north-south link between St James and St Elizabeth and is also the main route linking the town of Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, to the city of Montego Bay.

The project, which is 50 per cent complete, is scheduled for completion in April.

Forty-nine–year-old Mackfield farmer and shop operator, Burnette Lodge, said he lost 10 rabbits and several chickens when his coop was destroyed by men employed under the project last year, as they cleared lands on the property he occupies.

“They also destroyed a number of my banana trees and other crops and I am yet to be compensated,” said Lodge.

Jeneve Murray, another Mackfield resident, said her grandfather who is partially blind and is battling bone cancer, has been robbed of a walkway to his house after portions of his land were evacuated.

“They just came in sometime last year and started to bulldoze the land, and robbed us of the walkway and destroyed a number of fruit trees. Days later, they came in and build a little walkway, but because the road is so steep, my grandfather can't walk from the main road to his house,” said the disgruntled resident.

Several other residents complained that their businesses have been negatively impacted by the roadworks due to a dust nuisance in the area.

Others say, they had to relocate their businesses because their shops were in the path of the of sections of the roadway earmarked for widening.

Pastor Knight said if the residents' issues are not addressed promptly, they are considering stopping the work.

“I have been trying to ask them to hold strain, but it has reached a level now where anything is possible,” he stressed.

“If the people did not have a positive view on the project it would have been shut down long time, but they want the road, they believe that it is necessary, they want it to continue, but they have come to a place now where they feel disrespected, they see the incompetence, the mismanagement… so now they have decided that enough is enough, they have reached a place now where they want action,” Pastor Knight argued.

He said several community meetings, initiated by his church with stakeholders, have not borne fruit.

Haddo native and businessman Triston Thompson believes there is a lack of communication between the government agencies and residents.

He argued that a company should have been hired “to act as liaison between the government agencies and the residents.”

Community relations officer for the Western Region Janel Ricketts told the Observer West that the National Works Agency is “trying to resolve the issues”.

“The process for paying for lands, buildings walls has commenced. We have been in communication with the citizens regarding same,” said Ricketts.

“As a matter of fact, representatives from the NWA's legal department is currently at the Westmoreland Parish Office of the NWA in Savanna-la-Mar meeting with residents regarding issues to deal with land acquisitions and payments,” she told the Observer West on Tuesday.

She added that the NWA can only pay to titled landowners and in the case of structures, can only pay where there is proof of ownership.

“This is a challenge for many persons as there are a number of residents without titles,” she stressed.


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