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Million-dollar land feud heats up

By STEPHON NICHOLAS Sunday, July 27 2014

A multi-million dollar investment by development company, North Eastern Development Enterprises Limited (NEDECL), is under threat of being washed down the San Juan river as a protracted feud over land ownership with another developer, Immortelle Plantations Limited, has now reached the point of no return in the Bourg Mulatresse area of Lower Santa Cruz.

The battle, raging as the San Juan river that runs between the lands owned by the two developers can be, appears to be leading to the destruction of a three-storey multi-purpose facility that has been built by NEDCL.

Reports are that Immortelle is contending that NEDCL has encroached on its lands to construct its building. The NEDCL construction is also being challenged by the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation which has issued a Stop Notice to the company.

Residents of the neighbouring Riverside Park have been dragged into the squabble as NEDCL, as part of its development plan, has changed the original course of San Juan river, steering it perilously towards the close-knit community and endangering lives and houses.

Despite efforts by Anthony Roberts, Chairman of the Corporation and visits to the site by members of the Ministry of Drainage and Environmental Management Authority (EMA), no solution satisfying to all parties has been found to date. On Wednesday, however, Immortelle took matters into their own hands, using an excavator to remove soil on land the company alleged is owned by it but upon which NEDCL has built a wall to protect its building from the San Juan river.

Immortelle doubled its efforts at soil removal from the land under contention on Thursday, bringing in a second excavator to the site.

Speaking with Sunday Newsday on Friday, Cleve Bascombe, one of the owners of Immortelle, claimed his company was totally within its legal right to develop its land as the owners saw fit and that NEDECL was trespassing on the property.

Bascombe declared that the relevant authorities had pussy-footed around the issue for too long and now they, Immortelle’s owners, were being forced to take action to protect their rights.

“Had the ministry done what they’re supposed to do, this would have never happened in the first place. The Regional Corporation and Town and Country Planning, they are different because they are only concerned with the (construction of the) building. The Ministry of Drainage should have never allowed this to happen,” he said.

Bascombe claimed that NEDCL, through one of its owners, Stephen Bhaggan, has offered to buy three acres of Immortelle’s land including that which he claims the company was trespassing on. He said Immortelle has refused this offer

“We spoke to him (Bhaggan) asking him to put back the river on its original course. We showed him where his building was illegally placed and he didn’t take us on. He actually wanted to buy three acres of our land which we refused so to him that would have been his compromise.

“Even if we got compensation from him, the residents will still be affected. He could offer us a billion dollars, we not accepting it because right is right. Not because we have this land, we will take anything and walk away and leave the residents all by themselves. Justice must be done,” Bascombe declared.

Bascombe revealed that Ministry of Drainage officials tried to stop their excavating on Thursday but he ignored their pleas completely.

“Yesterday they came to stop us because (they’re saying) what we’re doing is illegal. So we had to draw their attention to what transpired here. ‘Where were you all when this illegal structure was going on, when the whole river was diverted and you all did nothing.” They realised they were on slippery grounds and humbly walked away. “We are totally within our legal rights here,” he continued.

And with the rainy season already underway and heavy showers and flooding already experienced at various places, Bascombe noted that if they do not take action to get the river on its original course, a calamity will take place at Riverside Park.

“All this earth went down the river (pointing to a chunk of soil missing on the river bank) and they (his excavators) took from over there (the next side of the river) to pack here. A little bit again this whole bank would have gone and water would have had free access to enter into the Bernados (one of the residents) and they. If that rain would have fallen a few more hours with a little more intensity this would have gone and everything would have been flooded out,” he concluded.

Bhaggan on Friday expressed outrage at the action of Immortelle and says its Chairman Clive Phelps is not trying to resolve the situation amicably. “He undermining the foundation of the existing wall by about four feet. Drainage went down there and tried to stop him but the past three days that’s been going on.

“I am calling Drainage and all the authorities to see at best I can deal with it but I am not getting anywhere. Drainage is trying to do something but he continues to excavate and it’s ridiculous. If he has a dispute, I sent a message and said “if you have a dispute that is not the way to deal with it. Let us sit down and rationalise and try and solve the situation.” You can’t solve the situation by behaving like that,” he argued.

Asked to explain the facts surrounding the rightful ownership of the land in contention he said, “When we purchased the property — we only acquired the property six years ago — when we did that we did a survey on it and the wall really (is) outside of the property but the wall was built back in 1990 by the previous owner...I raised the wall in doing the project and as a result of raising the wall, what would happen the water will not spill on both sides. But I did not to do anything else but protect my property by raising the wall,” he explained.

Bhaggan argued too that Immortelle is breaking the law by taking excavators into the river to dig the soil under the wall.

“...The river don’t belong to anybody it belong to the Government. He said the river belongs to him...From my understanding he can’t dig a riverbed. You can’t take equipment into a river without authority from the ministry. The ministry went down there, a gentleman named Mr Alexander and another engineer who were there tried to stop him and he still proceeded. There is no compromise with him with Mr Phelps,” he remarked.

Bhaggan, commenting on the concerns of residents with regard to the changing of the river course, says they have nothing to fear as the ministry has assured them that they are building the river wall specifically to protect them and have already commenced.

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