Garth Rattray | JPS needs closer regulation
It was 8 a.m. on Friday, November 1, 2019, in College Green, when Dr Jennifer Mamby-Alexander witnessed the terrifying collapse of a Jamaica Public Service (JPS) pole, up close and personal.
The huge pole was laden with three heavy transformers and other electrical equipment. It came crashing down without any warning and lay from across the street into her relative’s driveway. It spewed volatile oil all over the asphalt. It dragged live, high-voltage electrical cables down with it and left them laying on the ground, resting on motorcars and slung to nearby roofs, still anchored to the potheads of several homes.
It was a picture of near calamity and potential disaster.
The raw end of the fallen JPS pole revealed a completely rotted core and periphery. Any routine inspection, even within the past year, would have demanded immediate replacement. Instead, it remained, neglected and unmaintained until nature took its course. Any motorist, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian could have been seriously injured or killed. Death could have resulted from severe crush injury, severe burns or fatal electrocution.
The pole fell at a time when workers, residents, school children and tertiary students would have been passing by that precise spot. In fact, the pole fell exactly where guests of Dr Mamby-Alexander’s family parked every single day or waited on them. They often congregated in the driveway and socialised. The fallen pole, equipment and cables ‘trapped’ her family within the home until 1p.m. Additionally, some College Green residents were immobilised, and College Green and Hope Pastures were without power for most of the day.
When the pole fell, Dr Mamby-Alexander immediately called someone high up in the JPS administration to report the incident. However, she told me that he remarked that the wooden pole was aged and that he was not surprised that it rotted.
This spoke to gross negligence and poor maintenance of JPS assets. His laissez faire response belied the fact that this could easily have been a fatal incident. He never inquired about injuries, property damage or expressed any remorse. There was no personal apology from him or any on the company’s behalf. He calmly and perfunctorily promised to send an investigating team.
HOW MANY MORE?
It makes me wonder how many other JPS poles and equipment are similarly ignored, not being maintained or even examined periodically. How many other poles are likely to fall on any of us at any time, without warning? I wonder what our regulatory bodies are doing to ensure that JPS does its job properly. Do they only act after the fact? Does anyone request and inspect maintenance schedules and records? I wager that no one will be held accountable for that fallen pole that could have easily damaged property, injured or killed anyone.
Ironically, Dr Mamby-Alexander is the convener of the Hope Pastures group pushing to have JPS maintain and reinstall a functioning underground power system that served that community for over 50 years. It was neglected and allowed to deteriorate, and now JPS insists that all power lines must be surfaced, in direct contravention of the written assurance that led people to buy into that development. Gazetted information and their property titles validate their grouse.
The underground power supply was the ‘baby’ of the Rt Hon Norman Manley and approved by an act of Parliament in 1961. Buyers were promised a permanent underground power system with no limit on maintenance or replacement, safe from weather phenomena, free of web-like power cables and wires, and safe from falling power lines and poles.
Despite our various consumer protection and watchdog agencies, citizens are often left defenceless and powerless against mega companies and concerns. I hope and pray that accountability will begin with that pole.