Padlock removal at Bog Walk Gorge gates to be investigated
Flat Bridge: the popular roadway within the Bog Walk Gorge that motorists use in their daily commute.

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says he has instructed the police to carry out an investigation into the matter involving individuals who removed the padlocks to the gate at Dam Head in St Catherine after it was closed due to the threat of flooding from (then) Tropical Storm Ian.

Holness was making reference to the two men captured on surveillance video footage released by the National Works Agency (NWA) attempting to remove the locks. One of the men appeared to be the operator of a public passenger vehicle that was parked just outside the closed gate.

In a statement to Parliament on Wednesday, Holness said what was not seen on the video is that the individuals eventually removed the locks and entered the area, which appeared flooded. He noted that licence plates were identifiable from the camera footage and therefore action can be taken against the perpetrators.

"The police have been directed to do a thorough investigation and the persons involved should face the full force of the law," he said, stressing that such behaviour which endangered the lives of others is reprehensible and should not be tolerated.

He said the people entered that space notwithstanding the public warning that was given and the physical barrier that was placed at the location.

He explained that the Bog Walk Gorge, which the Dam Head gate leads to, was closed before the heavy rainfall was experienced on Monday. This was done after consultation among key disaster management agencies including the police, fire department, and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM).

"This was done to ensure the safety of all persons who would likely enter into that space with the possibility of being washed away by flood waters. There is a significant risk of persons being killed in the gorge under some circumstances; we have had persons being trapped and even killed in the Bog Walk Gorge," he said.

Holness said the Government has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of every Jamaican who uses the nation's roads, especially under adverse weather conditions.

"We cannot and we will not condone this kind of behaviour. It not only places the lawbreaker at risk, but every other citizen who would traverse that area would now be at risk," he said.

Addressing reports in the press regarding how persons in the area would access their homes, Holness said that while he understands residents wishing to be home, or to leave, there are circumstances when it would be deadly to do so.

"I go further: When the gates are closed it is because we have assessed that it is dangerous to move — so it is for their safety," he said.

Holness pointed out that before the gates were constructed, consultations were held with members of the communities along the gorge, and it was understood that the locations where the gates were finally erected were the most suitable.

He said that as it relates to the gate at Dam Head, the understanding was that no motor vehicles would go beyond the gate if it is closed but if, for whatever reason, residents would have gotten to that point, they would use a road that is behind the gorge road to access their homes. This road is not accessible to motor vehicles but to pedestrians.

"The gates are there for everyone's safety. It is not about locking out or locking in; it is for the protection of every single Jamaican who happens to use that road," Holness insisted.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter smitha@jamaicaobserver.com

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