Gravel Hill road repairs to start by summer
Stakeholders in Gravel Hill, Clarendon, have been assured that repairs to the deplorable roads in the south-western Clarendon community will commence by this summer.
The repairs are to be undertaken by bauxite/alumina company Jamalco. The company accepted liability for extensive damage caused to the roads by heavy-duty vehicles that transport ore through the community for processing at its plant in Halse Hall. Jamalco was forced to utilise trucks as the main mode of transportation following the derailment of one of its trains in October 2020.
Jamalco has contended, however, that it had started work in the area but said it came to a halt on more than one occasion due to what it claims are mishaps with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National Works Agency (NWA.)
But the NWA, the arm of the Government charged with overseeing repairs and maintenance of the island’s main road network, said community folk had objected to the work being done by Jamalco because it started the roadwork before consulting them.
“We were approached by Jamalco some time in 2020 in respect of work that it had started on the road but without our involvement. As we understand it, the people in the community had objected to that which was being done by Jamalco, hence the company sought our assistance belatedly,” NWA Communication and Customer Service Manager Stephen Shaw told The Gleaner.
According to Shaw, the agency held a subsequent meeting with Jamalco, at which time it was agreed that the NWA would undertake the necessary technical work, and a memorandum of understanding was signed. “This understanding was signed in 2021. The company indicated that it would do all the contracting (for) which the NWA would provide technical oversight,” explained Shaw.
HOPING FOR REPAIRS
“We hope that the company as per its undertaking, having used the said road to haul its raw material, will do the correct thing and have the road reinstated for the benefit of the people,” he added.
Additionally, Jamalco has said that the fire that gutted sections of its plant last August is also affecting its efforts to repair sections of the roads in Gravel Hill and Rhymesbury. Irate residents have staged several protests over the road conditions and repair delays.
Christopher Buckmaster, Jamalco’s director of human resources, security, and corporate services, told stakeholders at the meeting that production at the facility is expected to be resumed by the end of June. By then, he said the company should be able to undertake the road project to alleviate the residents’ woes.
“If you’re not making money, you can’t spend money, and the contract that we had for the road was not the only contract we stopped because it is when we sell alumina and make money that we are able pay contractors. So if we don’t have money to pay contractors, we can’t keep the contracts,” Buckmaster explained.
He added: “We continue to take responsibility for the road – we’re not shying away from that – but it takes cash, it takes money to fix the road, and the process had gone as far as we started to fix the road, and I’m certain if we didn’t have to go through NWA and the rigmarole, the road would have been fixed already because we had everything in place.”
Member of Parliament for Clarendon South Western Lothan Cousins, who was present at the meeting, lauded Jamalco for agreeing to take on the road repairs, citing its efforts as good corporate social responsibility. Cousins added that his consistency has also benefited from the good deeds of the bauxite company.
“When you have a company operating in a space that has undertaken to assist with a public infrastructure, that is what you call corporate social responsibility. As indicated earlier, the road belongs to the Government of Jamaica; the road is a National Works Agency road,” said Cousins.
The MP went further to point out that the company was under no obligation to repair the road.
“If you’re building your house and you buy 10 loads of marl in the middle of the rainy season, and you truck the marl along the road into this community and the road is damaged, would you take your personal money and fix back that road? Jamalco is under no obligation whatsoever to fix roads. They are taxpaying individuals just like all other people,” Cousins highlighted to the community.
According to Cousins, he took the initiative and wrote to the company to underwrite the cost for the road repairs, to which they agreed. The MP added that temporary repairs were done on the road with his personal resources.
“That was no Government input whatsoever, so let’s make it clear. But we tried something because we realised we’re not getting the kind of response that we want from the Government and for obvious reasons ... . It is no secret how this country operates in respect of Government and Opposition,” said the People’s National Party (PNP) MP, hinting at political victimisation. He was quick to add, however, that he was not making excuses for decades of neglect in the constituency that has been controlled by the PNP since being founded.
One resident, Denzel McLean, said there were other issues for Jamalco to address in Gravel Hill. McLean complained that dust from the company’s trains passing through the community had wreaked havoc on residents over the years. According to him, the dust nuisance has caused damage to homes and also pose grave health concerns.
“The train that pass through this community, we very disturbed by it. There’s no way Jamalco supposed to use wi district fi carry them dirt because the dirt rotten all house tops. When the train a pass two o’ clock and four o’ clock a morning time, it coming like a through the house it a come,” the Gravel Hill resident complained.
Jamalco has given its assurance that steps will be taken to see how best the woes could be alleviated and pledged to provide additional support to the community. The company said it would host another meeting to inform residents of a definite date to commence the repairs.