Costly dust nuisance! Business operators, MP claim sewerage work causing major losses
Gareth Davis, Sr, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Claiming that his business has incurred losses amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Calric Coleson is contemplating a lawsuit against Vinci Construction Company, the French firm which is doing a major sewage project in Port Antonio, Portland.
Other business persons, including those operating furniture and appliance stores, dressmakers and tailors, barbers, hairdressers, garment stores, and computer shops, have suffered a similar fate, with owners threatening to file a class-action suit against Vinci to recover millions of dollars, which they claim have been lost over an 18-month period.
They could be joined in court by West Portland Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz, who has indicated that he is also considering legal action.
"Vinci could not do this in any other township in Jamaica and, more so, in France," Vaz said following a stakeholders meeting last week.
"As a member of parliament in this parish, I, up to this point, neither know the scope of work or the timelines for a project in the parish capital. This level of disrespect to my constituted office and, by extension, Portlanders is unacceptable, and I will be writing to the French government to lodge a formal complaint through their embassy in Jamaica and our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Enough is enough!" declared Vaz.
At the heart of the dispute is a dust nuisance from the construction of a central water, drainage and sewerage project by Vinci.
Coleson, who owns and operates the Port Antonio School Shop, which has been in operation for 30 years, says since the dust from the construction started to blanket the community he has been hard hit.
"I now have in storage hundreds of uniforms that have turned white," Coleson told the stakeholders meeting.
"There was a time when the colour of the uniform was either blue or khaki, but dust has literally dyed the colours - changing them to white. This kind of disregard and disrespect on the part of the contractors could not take place anywhere else. I am forced to employ four additional persons to wipe uniforms daily, as a result of the dust nuisance. Roadways have been dug up and left for several months, while our political representative turned a blind eye," charged Coleson.
He had expected to present his concerns to Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Robert Pickersgill, representatives of the National Water Commission (NWC) and a team from Vinci, but they pulled out of the meeting at the last minute.
Instead, it was Vaz, the MP for the neighbouring constituency, who heard the grouse of the residents.
Vaz told the large gathering that the problems being experienced should be laid at the feet of chairman of the Portland Parish Council, Benny White, and the MP for the constituency, Linvale Bloomfield.
According to Vaz, the council and the MP continue to sit around comfortable while the people were forced to tolerate the dust and mud in a parish capital.
"It is my duty as MP and a taxpayer to intervene," said Vaz. "What is happening in Port Antonio affects every Portlander in one way or the other. Many of my electors have to do business in Port Antonio, and the complaints are mounting. I have a house in East Portland and, therefore, my roots are here. The reason why I have to intervene on behalf of the people is that the MP and the mayor failed to execute their duties on the behalf of the people who elected them."
He charged that the last update provided to residents by Vinci and the NWC was more than five months ago, and nothing has been done to address the dust nuisance.
The almost-$2 billion contract for the construction of a water, drainage and sewerage project in Port Antonio was awarded to Vinci in 2012, with the company, at that time, promising that the work would be carried out in a professional manner, and that great care would be taken not to inconvenience residents too much.
But, according to Vaz, "Since that promise was made, it has been nothing but a free for all by Vinci, with no consideration or regard for the business people, commuters, transport operators, and craft vendors, who have all lost millions of dollars combined.
"I support and will assist in any legal action to recover damages for this man-made disaster," declared Vaz.