BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-large, South/Central Bureau email@example.com
JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — Lorna Powell, a supervisor at the busy Intown Super Save supermarket, remembers when this fast-growing town was less than a third of its current size.
"Just over 30 years ago 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 Jamaica Observer, gesturing dramatically.
And, Member of Parliament (MP) for South East St Elizabeth Richard Parchment (PNP) insists that in 1972 there were only "two bars" in Junction.
Today, even with the fallout caused by the closure of the Alpart bauxite/alumina plant, in nearby Nain, at the height of the global recession in 2009, Junction continues to grow -- fuelled by a thriving farm sector and cash-rich returned residents from Britain and North America.
Incredibly, Junction, located on the lower south-eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains, with several shopping plazas and pleasingly wide, well-surfaced roadways, has no piped water from the National Water Commission (NWC). As is the case for so much of St Elizabeth, residents rely largely on catchment tanks and, increasingly, they as well as the business community, must buy truckloads of water on a monthly basis.
"The situation is very bad... we have to buy a truckload of water every three weeks and it is very expensive," says Nadine Brown, who works at a small restaurant in Pines Plaza. Residents say water, usually trucked from the Alpart water supply in Nain, costs between $4,000 and $6,000 per load.
Parchment, who claims there are businesses including fast food restaurants, banks and near-banks "lining up" to come to Junction once there is reliable running water, expects the problems to be resolved by next year.
The solution, he says, lies with implementation of Phase Two of the long-awaited Essex Valley Water Supply System which stalled for several years at Nain, a few miles away. Launched in 2001, the system is designed to bring water from a well field in Long Hill in the Myersville area to Junction and much of south east St Elizabeth.
"Phase one has been completed, and the pipeline has been up to Nain, the pipeline from Nain to Junction has been tendered, the contractor chosen, and hopefully, the procurement guidelines won't hold back the project too long," the MP told Observer Central recently. "If all goes well, I would say within three months we should go to Phase Two of the Essex Valley scheme to put the water from Nain into Junction, and by next year we should have the water flowing to all the businesses in the area; and other businesses -- like fast food outlets which - require a constant supply of running water will now see fit to come and invest ...," he said.
"There are also service organisations like banks which have a strong interest in coming... With increased business come increased jobs, and the attendant services will have to be developed to service the demands," said an enthusiastic Parchment.
"When we get water into Junction, and if we can get Alpart reopened with the resolution of the energy problems and with agriculture, we will see this town grow like it has never before," declared Parchment.
However, businessman Oral Lloyd, who owns Intown Super Save, says, while he is heartened by the latest news relating to the Essex Valley Water Scheme, he has heard so many promises over the years that he will only believe it when he sees it.
"Down the years we keep hearing this talk about Junction being the fastest-growing town in Jamaica and that water is coming... we have heard so many false promises from politicians, so I will wait until I see it," said Lloyd.
For Parchment, who says Junction and its surrounding communities now accommodate in excess of 20,000 people, the management of water theft will be crucial to the success of the Essex Valley Scheme.
"Right now, if it wasn't for the stealing of water, Junction would have some amount of potable piped NWC water," Parchment said.
The NWC has, for years, identified the siphoning of water from their lines by farmers on the slopes below Junction as one reason for water shortages in that area. Once the main lines are punched, temporary lines are inserted to irrigate nearby farms. When the temporary lines are removed, the water runs to waste.
Parchment said citizens, the NWC and the police will have to work together to ensure the Essex Valley Water Scheme does not suffer from thieves. He also expects that ongoing development of irrigation schemes will remove the incentive for farmers to vandalise potable water mains to steal water.
Lloyd pointed out that water is crucial, not only for Junction and its environs, but for the wider southern St Elizabeth -- which is among the driest yet most agriculturally productive areas of Jamaica because of the hard work and innovativeness of locals.
Generations ago, farmers in the region developed 'dry farming' methods using dried grass and leaves to prolong moisture and nutrients in the soil. Such methods have allowed southern St Elizabeth to be a leader in the production of a variety of vegetables and spices such as escallion, thyme and onions despite the hostile climatic conditions.
"If the farmers have water, they will produce more, we could support (food processing) factories and business much better," said Lloyd.
He and other business operators, such as youthful Odane Bailey who runs an Internet café and document centre, pray for the day when Alpart will reopen.
"With increasing costs and less money available some people are increasingly economising," said Bailey. And Lloyd claims that with redundancy money from the Alpart closure "just about run out" there has been an alarming decline in the level of retail business.
Councillor for the Junction Division, Cetany Holness (JLP) has agitated for years for a tax office to be established in Junction as a way of retaining earnings in the parish and fuelling business in the town. He is happy that he has the support of St Elizabeth Parish Council chairman and Black River Mayor Everton Fisher (PNP) who is in consultations with central government to have an office located at the Junction market.
"A tax office will go a far way ... people wouldn't have to go to Mandeville and Santa Cruz, and Black River to pay fees, it would be a win-win situation for us," said Holness. He also points to the absence of a public sanitary conveniences as a major headache as the town grows. Crucially, he says, the fire station needs a new fire turck to replace a tottering old vehicle now 27 years old. "This area has a lot of bush fires because of the dry conditions. Only recently we had a very large and dangerous bush fire, luckily we got some rain just in time," Holness said.
Former MP and current JLP caretaker Frank Witter says there is need to resolve an ongoing land dispute that has stymied development at the centre of town.
"A relatively large parcel of land is tied up because of a family dispute over who owns it," said Witter. He noted that, while he was MP, the thought was even given to forced acquisition by government, so that the land could be used for a much-needed park and recreational area. "Every town needs a relaxation spot, and that land is ideal," said Witter.
Former MP, Derrick Rochester (PNP), often described as the political representative who has done the most for the development of Junction and its surroundings, also sees the need for recreational facilities, especially for young people.
"I would love to see a school set up for dance and drama; there are so many young people with nothing to do," said Rochester. He also visualises training in the emerging and fast-evolving computer-related technologies, because "that is the way the world is going".