CHOVEY, St Mary — The Westmoreland Bridge located at Chovey, near Georgia and which links the communities of Highgate, Bromley and Lewis Store to Annotto Bay and Kingston, was finally opened last Tuesday.
It was built by China Harbour Construction under the JDIP Project at a cost of US$18M and stands the longest bridge in St Mary, spanning 180 metres over the Wag Water River.
The structure was destroyed seven years ago by Hurricane Gustav and has been a major inconvenience to schoolchildren, the sick and elderly, taxi operators, small farmers ever since. People have had to, on occasion, wade waist-deep in water in order to get to the other side of their own community, or travel great distances via Bellfield or Esher to get across.
“The children will get home quicker (now) and get to school earlier and persons get to work earlier,” one resident said. “It will cut back on cost for parents to send children to school. We hope that the fare will be reduced as commuters were feeling the pinch of it because the roads on the other side were not good. Now that they have the shorter route they should charge less. The bridge is remarkable.”
Another said: “This is a beautiful bridge and project and we are glad for it. We are glad for it and when we are going to Highgate we don’t have to use the other route [because] this is much shorter.”
Levan Freeman, Mayor of Port Maria and Councillor for the Bellfield Division where the bridge is located said, “It has been a long wait and we appreciate what we see. We have gone through many trials and tribulations and in the long run the durability of this bridge will be worth what we have waited for. Many persons have suffered discomfort in terms of travelling in going around the long way to get to the top of the hill at Clonmel or Lewis Store and to God be the glory, today we can celebrate the opening of this bridge.”
He added, however, that street lights are now needed on the stretch.
In a spirited address at the opening, Opposition spokesman on transport Karl Samuda, under whose leadership work on the bridge started, commended the current administration for seeing the project to completion.
“This is a demonstration of a 'joined-up' country because this project was started by the former Government, the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) Government, and is completed and is now been opened by this government... I congratulate China Harbour for this excellent job, I congratulate the officers of the ministry and of course the ministry itself [and] the political directorate to work so assiduously to get this beautiful facility completed so you, the people, can enjoy it. This bridge belongs to the people; it's the people’s bridge,” he said.
For Xia Guoshun, Chargé d'Affaires of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Jamaica, the bridge is symbolic of the good relationship between the two countries.
"The co-operation between China and Jamaica has yielded fruitful achievements in the partnership of 41 years. Co-operation has made much progress and we are happy to see another new road and bridge that have been built by China Harbour. It can be regarded as another symbol of the true friendship between the China and Jamaican people,” he said.
Xia also hailed the recent visit to China by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller as a deepening of the ties of friendship.
During the visit both sides pledged to enhance cooperation in all areas — in Caribbean trade, agriculture, construction and environmental protection. Also, Simpson Miller inked four fresh partnership agreements with Beijing.
Minister of Transport, Works and Housing Dr Omar Davies also spoke at Tuesday’s opening of the Westmoreland Bridge.
He argued that the country had to leverage itself properly in order to attract foreign investment given the meagre resources in government’s coffers. He added, with reference to the swelling controversy over the proposal to allow China Harbour to site a logistics hub on Goat Island, which falls within a protected area.
“There is very little opportunity for additional expenditure in economic activities,” he said.
“That does not mean we will drop our hands. What it says is that we will have to find ways to facilitate the investment outside of government expenditure and therefore, that is precisely the reason why we worked so hard to complete the deal with the Chinese on the North-South link.
Davies added that even as Government seeks to attract investors, it could not be facilitated at any cost.
“I want to state formally here that any investment which this administration seeks to attract must meet these criteria: Inflow of capital, increase in production, increase in employment and be sensitive to the environment. There is a debate which is seeking to occur and this administration has no less interest in protecting the environment than any other particular group or any party.
“... While preservation of the natural habitat is a desirable objective, there has to be full recognition that abject poverty is the greatest threat to environmental preservation as we see virgin forest been burnt down because someone feels there is no other option. We see squatting on the river banks and gully banks which create problems whenever there are natural disasters,” he said.
Earlier, Samuda had pleaded with the Government to revisit its consideration to site the hub on Goat Islands.