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Highway re-routing not yet approved

Published:Sunday | January 18, 2015 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer The entrance to Phase Two of the Caymanas Country Club Estate.

The developers of the North-South leg of Highway 2000 have begun work to realign the highway, putting it in the backyards of residents of the Caymanas Country Club Estate, without the approval of the planning authority.

The contractor now says all work has since been suspended.

The highway is being constructed by the Jamaica North South Highway Company (JNSHC), which has applied for a revision of the initial permit granted by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), but that revision is still being reviewed, NEPA told Sunday Business.

Still, Yvonne Nelson, a resident of Block C of Caymanas Country Club Estate, says construction crews began removing forestry from the hillside on January 1.

The homeowner said she learnt through her Home-owners Association that the highway alignment will impact her cluster.

"The rear peripheral walls that run at the back of the development is to be removed from a number of houses as the land is needed for the highway to be continued," Nelson told Sunday Business.

Residents, some of whom have demanded a refund from the real-estate developers, also learned at a public meeting a week ago that the realigned highway could run on to the property of at least three homes.

New Era Homes says it also against the highway's rerouting.

"A more acceptable route for the construction as it relates to our development would be the original route, which is already approved by the authorities, or one running on the mountain side of the wells, owned and operated by the Urban Development Corporation," New Era chairman and CEO Leo Taddeo told Sunday Business.

Taddeo said the original route would put the highway further away from the housing scheme, "reduce the impact on our development and eliminate the reason for breaching our perimeter wall".

When contacted, NEPA said no approval has so far been granted for a variation of the planning permit to facilitate the realignment.

"The request for the amendment was received by the agency on November 10, 2014, and no decision has yet been made on this request," NEPA said.

JNSHC wants an amendment to the previously granted environmental permit for the highway segment from Caymanas to Linstead in St Catherine, due to proposed changes to the Caymanas Interchange and the realignment of 4.5 kilometres of the highway.

Highway contractor China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC) said Friday that whatever work the Caymanas Country Club residents are referring to has stopped.

"Whether they were doing anything on New Year's Day, I have no proof of that, but the work has stopped," said CHEC communications head Jennifer Armond.

"There is a point up by Caymanas Golf Club that the old approved alignment would end up at and then the new alignment also comes there and takes us to the same point at the top of Caymanas Hill, so they had been clearing up to that point. Now, whether they ventured a little bit over it, I am not sure, but all that work has stopped anyway," she said.

Work resumption awaits NEPA's approval, she added.

Caymanas Country Club Estate was developed in 2011 in the first phase of a multibillion-dollar real estate project by New Era Homes, which should eventually deliver 853 detached two-bedroom and three-bedroom homes at a projected investment of $9.2 billion.

The homes in Phase One cost $12 million to $15 million, an investment that the homeowners said at the January 8 meeting was in danger of being eroded.

"More paramount is that the quality of life doesn't just have implications for the wildlife whose natural habit is affected, but the livelihood that was sold to us for millions, as the countryside, scenic, picturesque tranquil place to reside will now be at the side of a major highway," Nelson said.

JNSHC must obtain approval under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act to amend the alignment.

NEPA said its consideration of the application "is mindful of the implications of having a roadway of this magnitude in close proximity to residential developments and conditions have been/would be included to mitigate any potential impacts".