‘We can’t cope’
WITH millions figuratively down the drain from paying National Water Commission (NWC) sewerage costs, despite not being connected to its system, and simultaneously juggling payments for private sewerage, the strata committee of Queens Court Apartments in the Corporate Area says it is desperately awaiting a decision from the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) on its request for a reprieve.
A representative of the committee who contacted the Jamaica Observer said the woes began in 2020 following the completion of works on the NWC’s upgraded sewer line on Constant Spring Road in St Andrew.
“They finished the sewer line on Constant Spring Road in 2020; they sent us a notice letter in July of 2020 and told everybody they were giving us five months to prepare ourselves to connect. When we saw our bills going up we didn’t realise that we were being charged for sewerage, we just saw that the bills were extremely high. So, in November of 2020, we queried the bill and realised that the sewerage charges had been added. They were charging us even before time. It was $1 million between June and December,” the representative who asked not to be named told the Observer.
She said efforts by the owners of the complex to connect to the NWC’s upgraded sewer main on Constant Spring Road, where they are located, have been thwarted by the topography; a fact to which the commission has been unsympathetic.
The NWC is the primary provider of potable water and sewerage services in Jamaica. The OUR regulates the water and sewerage sector. Under Section 12 of the National Water Commission Act, where the commission constructs, extends or operates any sewerage system, the NWC may require the owner of any premises within the service area to be connected to the sewerage system. The commission is required to provide the owner with written notice of this requirement. The occupier will be required to apply to be connected to the system within three months of the receipt of the notification. Where the owner of the premises fails to comply with the notice, the commission reserves the right to cause the premises to be connected to the sewerage system, and the owner of the premises will be liable for all costs associated with the connection.
Furthermore, the commission reserves the right to apply sewerage charges to any account once the premises is within 100 yards or 91.4 metres of the sewerage system, whether or not the premises is connected to the system.
“We have had challenges connecting with the sewerage system because our land slopes negatively. The original design of the land is that the sewerage is at the back of the property. And since it is negatively sloped away from the sewerage line it would mean that we would have to construct lift station plus get pump/s to get the sewage up,” the individual explained.
She said in discovering that it would cost some $5 million to connect, plus other costs in the region of $1 million, the strata’s management wrote to the NWC asking for its guidance.
“They did an engineer’s surveyor’s report which did show that we are faced with adverse gradient and they had written us by e-mail telling us that we will not be charged because we cannot connect due to adverse gradient. They had taken off about three months of the sewerage and then after that we got another letter saying that the legal department advised that NWC did not give us sound instructions, so we would still have to connect,” she claimed.
“We wrote them back and we said to them, ‘we don’t have that resource to do so because we didn’t expect that it would a difficult connection’. The majority of the properties are supposed to be gravity-fed system, meaning you don’t need a pump system to be able to connect easily, but that’s not our situation and because it requires such high capital we would have to have savings for that, we would have to be able to come together and get that resource together. We would want them to use their discretion and give us a waiver and give us some time to do this,” the representative said.
She said the apartment’s management, having sought the intervention of the offices of the Public Defender and the Prime Minister, is now at its wits’ end as it awaits the outcome of an appeal to the OUR.
“They have had this matter since September and we are waiting for a verdict. What we have asked for is time to accumulate the funds because it is a lot of money. We have spent over $3 million to date and we have not been able to connect and use of the sewerage [system], plus we have to pay separately for private sewerage to remove our sewage,” the individual said.
“If we continue like this we will never be able to connect because we don’t have the resources to connect. We have a lot of pensioners; it is a very old scheme — from 1970 — and we have elderly persons here and we have had to move the maintenance to over 100 per cent to facilitate the sewerage charges and still we are not able to cope,” she explained.
She said, while the OUR deliberates, the owners are about to buckle beneath the financial load of two costs for sewerage.
“They say it is a technical situation but while we are waiting it’s really hard for us to be finding money each time. We have to be paying two sewerage and that’s the stress of it; it is difficult now, it is like three years of us coping and we are still not hearing anything,” she said.