CHEC to repair breakaway at Harbour Heights
A house on the edge in Harbour Heights following last November'sflood rains (Photo: Observer file)

RESIDENTS of the east Kingston community of Harbour Heights, who have been clamouring for assistance to prevent further flooding and damage, are to receive a fix from the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) through the South Coast Highway Improvement Project.

Members of the community have been pleading for the authorities to correct blunders which, they said, endangered their community over the past years and worsened since torrential rains linked to two tropical storms, between October and November last year, wreaked havoc in the area and other sections of the island.

The residents charged that works done under a 2012 landslide mitigation project, through a US$2.37-million grant from the Japan Social Development Fund, had fallen short of its intended scope. The mitigation project should have included plotting (with the aid of GPS or global positioning system) technology and local lie of the land knowledge, outlining and erecting a series of drains, gutters, channels and rainwater-harvesting strategies that would act as natural hazard-intervention techniques.

Now, the residents say, some 20 homes in that community — nestled between Caribbean Cement Company on one end and Harbour View on the other — are exposed to a gaping chasm after the rains last year November dislodged their backyards, sweeping away clothes lines and fruit trees.

Member of Parliament for the area, Phillip Paulwell, who has been repeatedly seeking answers on their behalf, again brought the issue up in Parliament on Tuesday, earning this response from Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke: “You have my word.”

The finance minister further indicated that the works to be done in the community, valued at $80 million, will be carried out under the South Coast Highway Improvement Project — which will involve the construction of a highway from Harbour View to Yallahs in St Thomas and undertaken by China Harbour Engineering Company. Ground was broken for the $12.91-billion-dollar project in November of 2019. The works involve the rehabilitation of approximately 110 kilometres of roadway between Harbour View in Kingston eastern and Port Antonio in Portland, and the 26-kilometre thoroughfare from Morant Bay to Cedar Valley in St Thomas.

Querying the timeline of the works for the community in Parliament on Tuesday, Paulwell emphasised that the situation “is a disaster waiting to happen”.

Clarke, noting the concern, said while he could not speak to the direct time frame, the assurance had also been given by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. “I believe his word is good,” Clarke said on Tuesday.

Raising the issue in Parliament during the debate on the Second Supplementary Estimates last year, Paulwell noted that the community was “really out on the top of a precipice about to be washed over if another huge rain event comes. In fact, you don't even need a huge rain event”.

The National Works Agency told me that the project will cost about $80 million to be completed; it would save at least 15 to 20 homes from being washed away in the event of a significant rainfall,” he said then.

Also commenting at the time, Member of Parliament for neighbouring constituency St Andrew East Rural Juliet Holness said the scope of work had been confirmed with the NWA from then.

“The idea is, that critical area that keeps falling down on our residents with their back walls going into the gully is not one that can be resolved with a small, short-term fix. As such it has been incorporated in a major way to be done by CHEC — from Harbour View to Portland. That commitment has been made, it is currently included in our numbers, and we look forward to seeing the actual execution of that leg of the project — and by virtue of that a fix to the Harbour Drive problem that has dogged us for several years,” she said at the time.

– Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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