St Thomas residents say water, gravel taken by truckload, with no returns made to parish
St Thomas is a parish with a colourful history, and blessed with an abundance of fertile farmlands, rivers, streams, majestic mountains, black and white sand beaches, but a great majority of its residents are facing overwhelming financial and social challenges.
Paramount among the social problems is a frustrating shortage of water. Despite its rivers and streams, many communities all over the parish are without piped water.
It is common to see people walking with containers searching for potable water. It is also to be noted that much of its water is trucked and piped out of the parish.
And, according to Lorian Peart-Roberts, St Thomas parish manager for the Social Development Commission, the capital, Morant Bay, faces regular water shortages.
Peart-Roberts was addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum on the development of St Thomas, held last Thursday at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices.
But, it is not only water that is leaving St Thomas by the truckload, with little given back to the parish, residents argue.
Dorrett Abrahams, St Thomas native, and secretary of the St Thomas Parish Development Committee, is among many residents and stakeholders who are concerned that the parish's natural resources are "constantly being taken out of St Thomas to build the rest of Jamaica".
Of great concern is the daily removal of gravel from the Yallahs and Morant river valleys.
The aggregate is described by businessman Alston Stewart as "of high quality ... which is indispensable to construction development".
Said Peart-Roberts: "Any given morning in driving from Kingston to St Thomas, you can count 25 trucks laden with aggregate ... . In the evening you can hardly find space to drive between the convoys coming in ... . However, no returns from these resources come to the parish ... ."
Most of the quarry operators do not live in the parish, and, as such, they appear to have no personal interest in the parish's development.
"We feel like we are being raped," Peart-Roberts said.
rape high, roads terrible
Incidentally, the rape and carnal abuse figures in the parish are among the highest in the island. And St Thomas also has some of the worst road conditions islandwide.
The trucks overladen with aggregate are contributing to the destruction of the roads in the parish. Though there is a limit to the amount that each truck is authorised to carry, the process is not adequately monitored.
Truck drivers keep evading the police by communicating with one another about the whereabouts of the police with the scale that measures the weight of the trucks.
It is also a general feeling that the scale at Harbour View is not serving its purpose, so Franklyn Sephestine, chairman of the St Thomas Parish Development Committee, who was also at the forum, is suggesting that it "be required of all the quarries to put scales in".
Sephestine argued: "The scale cannot be in Harbour View, and the truck is going to drive from Morant Bay all the way there to be weighed. Because, then it has left St Thomas, and left the mash-up roads behind ... . At the quarries they will put scales in, and the quarries be made responsible for the weight of the truck ... ."
The driver and the loader of the truck should be held responsible for any overweight, Sephestine also said.