Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Highway explosions damaging Pinnacle ruins

Published:Wednesday | August 13, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Hodesh and Paul McLean claim that explosions associ-ated with the construction of the Linstead to Caymanas leg of the north-south highway is crumbling the ruins at Pinnacle (seen at left), which are a JNHT monument. - Photos by Ian Allen/Staff Photographer
This brick arch, the only vertical section of the ruins of Leonard Howell's mansion at The Pinnacle, is said to be in danger of collapsing.
The stone wall behind Donisha Prendergast, part of the foundation of the ruins of Leonard Howell's mansion at The Pinnacle in St Catherine, as it was at the end of January this year. This same section has now crumbled as a result, say some residents, of explosions associated with the construction of the Linstead to Caymanas leg of the north-south highway. - Photo by Paul H. Williams
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Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

On a huge expanse of land near Sligoville, St Catherine, Leonard P. Howell, regarded as the founder of the Rastafarian movement, set up the first Rastafarian village in Jamaica in 1940. On the highest point of the land, called The Pinnacle, Howell built a stone and clay mansion on what is now known as Lot 199.

In the early morning of Monday, July 14, 1941, more than 173 members of the constabulary raided The Pinnacle and arrested 70 men. Howell, who initially evaded the dragnet, was subsequently charged and imprisoned. He returned to The Pinnacle in 1943, and the community of Rastafarians flourished until 1954, when it was totally destroyed by the government militia.

Since then, ownership of Pinnacle lands has been disputed or changed hands. The Rastafarians still regard the land as theirs, even though on November 13, last year, Resident Magistrate Vashti Chatoor ruled that Lot 199 at Pinnacle legally belongs to St Jago Hills Development Company Limited. It consists of the ruins of Howell's mansion and the ruins of a water tank.

After years of lobbying with the Rastafarians, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) granted national monument status to Lot 199 last year after the close of legal arguments in the Spanish Town Resident Magistrate's Court. In January, the ownership dispute was reignited with the serving of notice on the Rastafari community to vacate The Pinnacle.

NO WORD ON INQUIRY

After all the news blitz, claims and counterclaims, the prime minister, it was said, ordered a 'commission of inquiry' to determine who the legal owner of The Pinnacle is. To date, the public is yet to be made aware of what progress, or the lack thereof, the commission has made.

And the problems at Pinnacle are about to be exploded back into the spotlight as two current occupiers are claiming that the explosions from the construction of the section of the north-south highway from Linstead to Caymanas are making the ruins of Leonard Howell's mansion crumble.

Hodesh and Paul McLean, who live in the area, said the blasts have been going on for quite a while and the vibrations are of seismic proportions.

There was a particular blast a few weeks ago, which, Hodesh said, was particularly horrendous and so strong that everywhere shook.

"This blast has been going on forever. I am shocked this whole place ain't crumble yet … . The whole place shakes … ," she said.

When The Gleaner visited Pinnacle last Saturday, the path being cleared for the highway was seen coming from way in the St Catherine hills through Content district, a village set to be part of Pinnacle, and all the way to behind the Caymanas Golf Club. The view of the surrounding lands is spectacular, but the crumbling foundation of the mansion is everything but.

Of particular interest is the brick arch, the only part of the mansion that stands vertically; it is in danger of collapsing. Cracks are visible in the structure. Checks with Gleaner file photographs showed that such cracks were not present in January, and the crumbling walls above the stone steps were intact then.

Hodesh is the one trying to replace them as the McLeans said they do not know what the JNHT is doing. Hodesh said the JNHT has been contacted and a Lisa Grant visited. Another team, which included an archeologist, visited, but they said nothing could be done about the matter at the time.

Grant is the legal officer at the JNHT. Up to press time yesterday, she had not responded to an emailed query from The Gleaner.

DISAPPOINTED

Meanwhile, Hodesh, while expressing her disappointment with the JNHT, is particularly concerned that the instability of the ruins poses safety issues for people who visit Pinnacle.

"We need to reinforce these walls. When people come here, they need to walk in safety … and you can't stop people from coming here," she said.

And she is suggesting that the builders of the highway - China Harbour Engineering Company - compensate for the damage to the ruins.

"Yes, they could provide us with some expertise to help fix those walls back; they need to. That's the least they could do … . We want a grant to fix this place. We are going to talk to the Chinese … ," she said.

The arch, which might crumble if the vibration continues, is of great concern to Hodesh.

"This is something that is really close to us … . This will be incorporated in whatever they do with this site. They need to make sure that this stands."

Apart from the crumbling of the ruins, there are also concerns about a mysterious haze that forms over the area for hours at times. They believe the haze is associated with the work being done.

But what the McLeans and other people who witnessed it would like to know more than anything else is the purpose of an airborne vessel that they saw one night near The Pinnacle. The craft, they said, looked like a military one, and it hovered over a section of the highway for quite a while, making a humming sound. From the ground, they say, a bright light projected into the craft.