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Storm brews between big developers, residents

By STEPHON NICHOLAS Sunday, June 29 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Work is being done to construct a retaining wall by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources after the San Juan River was illegally diverte...
Work is being done to construct a retaining wall by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources after the San Juan River was illegally diverte...

With the rainy season having begun, a storm is brewing between big real estate developers and residents in the Bourg Mulatresse, Lower Santa Cruz area and which threatens dire consequences for an entire school population.

Causing great distress and concern to residents of the community of Riverside Park is the construction of what appears to be a three-storey multi-purpose facility by the North Eastern Develop­ment Enterprises Limited (NEDECL).

NEDECL has reportedly been granted approval by the Town and Country Development and Planning to construct a grocery/supermarket on a strip of land between Saddle Road and the San Juan river, north west of Riverside Park. Residents, looking at the massive frame of the structure erected so far, wonder whether this building is only to be a supermarket or is planned to be a much grander mall.

In addition, residents say that NEDECL has illegally diverted the course of the San Juan river to facilitate construction, and in doing so has steered it directly to their homes.

Another developer, Immortelle Plantations’, is also causing distress to the residents as well as to the school population of the San Juan North Secondary School. The bone of contention here deals with access to the land that is being developed and specifically, what impact this development would have on the school and the community.

San Juan North Secondary is prone to flooding during the rainy season. The developer is currently using the school’s entrance to gain access to his property.

Disgruntled residents, speaking to Sunday Newsday, questioned the legality of the operations by the two developers, pointing to trees that they say were on land belonging to Immortelle Plantations Limited, and that were burned and dumped into the Santa Cruz river to divert its course.

One resident who identified herself as Ms Bernardo, told Sunday Newsday that her home was directly threatened by the actions of NEDECL given that the rainy season was here and changing the flow of the river would erode the soil under her home and damage her property.

Bernardo, who said she had lived in the area for several years, said the river was an important one as it drains all the water from the Santa Cruz area and should not be tampered with due to the sheer volume it accommodates.

She pointed to a spot in the river which she said has been reduced to the size of a mere stream because of the excavation works being done as well as dumping of soil and trees.

“We are in the rainy season. Any minute now rain could come down and flood this whole area,” she said.

The San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation has also been caught in the land feud with Immortelle Plantations Limited having written to Chairman Anthony Roberts seeking redress.

In a letter to Roberts by Clive Phelps, chairman of Immortelle Plantations Limited, Phelps complained:

“It is demonstrably clear that NEDECL is seeking to ‘reclaim’ land in order to facilitate its wrongful and unauthorised development of the said site. As a result it has been excavating and continues to excavate the river bank unlawfully to the detriment of the residents of the area and our property as it runs along the river bank.”

Roberts said he has gotten involved in the matter to help protect the rights of the persons in the community. He said he was not interested in getting into any legal wrangling but was simply ensuring compliance with proper protocol.

“We saw the building going up and had concerns. We issued a Show Cause Notice and the gentleman (of NEDECL) had approval from Town and Country Panning but not from the regional corporation. Since then they withdrew their plan and have been trying to come in and comply. “We asked them to stop the building but I visited (the site) on Sunday and saw some construction still taking place. I’ve instructed our building inspector to (take action) and if they don’t stop we’ll issue a demolition notice,” he said. Questioned about the legality of diverting the San Juan river, Roberts stated emphatically, “The only person to divert the river (legally) is the Ministry of (Environment and) Water Resources.”

Sunday Newsday understands that the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has been notified of the developments.

Concerning the trees that have been felled and dumped into the river and the excavation works, Roberts said NEDECL should have had permission from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) for such activities.

“I spoke with the EMA on Monday and I formally wrote a letter to them on that. It’s a matter we are pursuing. I am hoping rain doesn’t fall right now with the amount of debris in the river,” he said.

Roston Paul, another member of the Riverside Park community, expressed exasperation at the situation stating;

“They diverted the river and if we weren’t fighting to get this (retaining) wall put up everybody might have come one day and couldn’t get to their houses. When that river comes down it is very very dangerous. Authorities not saying anything and money talks as the saying goes. People just doing what they want and not really caring about the consequences,” he said.

As to the proposed development of Immortelle Plantations Limited and its proposed development, students and teachers of the San Juan North Secondary School wonder what will become of their school.

An official of the school, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no consultation with school authorities regarding the nature of the development.

The official said alarm bells have been ringing since 2008 when excavation done on a hill behind the school resulted in a massive landslide, which forced closure of the school for close to three months.

“There has been no consultation. They just came with a backhoe one day and pulled down a (school) fence and proceeded to go down in the back,”said the school official saying there was no quarrel with Immortelle Plantations Limited developing its property but suggested that the company’s agents find another access to the acreage.

“You can’t have trucks and backhoes passing right on that narrow piece of road and students there too. I’m concerned with the safety of the students,” said the school official who also pointed to other concerns such as whether proper procedure was followed by the developer.

“If they have gotten permission (to develop) then go ahead but we would like to see EMA certification. I have no problem, let them start to build but we want to see something in writing,” the official said.

The school official noted that any development works being done in the area would pose an environmental hazard to students with the dust expected from such a project.

Resident Paul said a galvanise fence, erected by Immortelle to partition a thin strip of land between the school and Riverside Park, was a contentious issue as residents’ deeds specifically prohibited such partitions to preserve the aesthetics of the environment but here it was that a developer was being allowed to put up this ugly fence.

Another resident, Ronnie, said he has no preconceived notions about the proposed development being done by Immortelle but would like to meet with their representatives for them to answer any questions they may have.

“We had asked for a meeting and instead they asked us to put what (concerns) we have in writing. We have fears they are going to use this little bridge we use as access for over a hundred houses or whatever they are going to build in the back there.

“They are our neighbours now so we want to talk,” said Ronnie.

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