Climate Change dust bowl - Portmore residents angry as proposed park is left hanging and dangerously dry
Instead of the tranquillity that was expected from a highly publicised Climate Change Park that was to be created in Portmore, St Catherine, residents are facing a major nuisance from what is now nothing more than a 'dust bowl'.
Last week, residents of the Portmore community of Passagefort told The Sunday Gleaner that the 15-acre lot, which should have been a symbol of Jamaica's commitment to tackling the problem of climate change, is instead a challenge to their health and finances.
"When we heard of the Climate Change Park, without seeing a plan, we said that was a good idea to have something constructed over there and don't just allow the place to be going to waste like that," said Gilroy Williams, a 76-year-old resident of Passagefort.
But with not much update on the planned project and after years of dealing with the dust pollution from the large lot, Williams, a retired police superintendent, said he and his wife are contemplating selling their house and moving, like several of their former neighbours who have left the community to escape the dust.
"It makes me feel miserable when you see the amount of dust that accumulates in our homes, and we are right in the centre of it, so you can image the problems that we are going through here," said Williams.
"It makes you sick. It destroys your furniture and it gives the mistress and other people who live here extra work to clean and sweep on a regular basis. Even now the house needs painting, but there is no point in painting today and tomorrow it is going to return to a worse condition," added Williams, who said both he and his wife suffer from sinusitis.
Residents said they have pleaded for help from the member of parliament for the area, Colin Fagan, acting Mayor of Portmore Leon Thomas, and the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) without success.
According to the residents, when they decided they were going to protest publicly, a pledge was made to truck water to the park to keep down the dust, and this was done at least three times weekly, but they have not seen the truck again since the start of this year.
Admitted to the hospital
"We can't live in this any longer. We are fed up of this," said Claudette Sinclair-Mullings, who told The Sunday Gleaner that she was admitted to the hospital in 2014 because doctors found that her lungs were infected.
This diagnosis came after months of visiting the doctor and purchasing medications to deal with her medical challenges, which she blames on her exposure to the dust.
Her neighbour Garfield Rhoden was equally upset. He said the huge lot had been a swamp when most of them moved to the area in the 1970s, but then it was drained and the lot has since become an area for various activities, including concerts.
"The whole thing stinks. This is the town centre for Portmore and look at it. It's a disgrace. It's better they had let the swamp stay because that is a part of the ecosystem," said Rhoden.
"They said they were going to plant trees and it was stupid, because the tree that they planted is not the type of tree for the area," he chided.
The proposed Climate Change Park is to be created by the Portmore Municipal Council in partnership with the German city of Hagen under a Municipal Climate Partnership Programme.
It was touted as a poster child for climate change based on plans for the site, with a scheduled completion date of 2017.
The park is to be built across from the Portmore Mall, and is expected to feature solar and wind energy, rainwater harvesting, jogging trail, water fountain, park benches and a waste-water treatment plant, among other things. Germany had promised to allocate €250,000 to the project.
Although the two cities were linked in 2012 under former Portmore Mayor George Lee, who died while in office, details about the development only came to national prominence in May 2014 when the Climate Change Park was designated the National Labour Day project for the year.
Several ministers of government, then German Ambassador to Jamaica Josef Beck, representatives of corporate Jamaica, and residents of Portmore used the Labour Day to plant trees and beautify the area.
More than 100 blue mahoe, lignum vitae, mahogany and poui trees were planted along the area's periphery.
But when our news team visited the site last Tuesday, most of these trees were nowhere to be seen and several of those that have survived are in dire need of water.
The parched, unfenced lot is being used as a shortcut by several residents making their way to the nearby commercial district, despite a 'No Trespassing' sign erected by the UDC. A few tyres, two rusty football goalposts, plastic bottles and other debris were seen discarded in the area.
According to the residents, they have grown weary of the groundbreaking ceremonies hosted on the large property, as several proposals have been voiced for the transformation of the space, with none coming to fruition.
In 2003, for example, they watched as ground was broken for the Jamaica Football Federation Academy, but those plans were later shelved.
Then there was plan for a transport hub, which was publicly announced by different officials in the transport ministry, including former Transport Minister Dr Omar Davies.
When contacted last week, the acting mayor for the municipality said the land is being watered at least once per week. Thomas blamed the death of some of the trees on the poor quality of the soil on the lot.
He said the 15-acre property is to serve three purposes. Other than the proposed plans for a Climate Change Park and a transportation hub, the council also intends to build a monument dedicated to the Spaniards.
Thomas declined to say how much the Germans have already contributed to the facility, saying that could not be revealed until after the next meeting with representatives from Hagen, planned for this week. He argued that there was not much he could do to minimise the dust pollution.
"We have a whole heap of other open lots in Portmore where people encounter dust, because the time is dry. So there is nothing that the Portmore Municipality can do at this time," said Thomas.
"We are hoping to get funding to do what we want to do. There is nothing that we can do to stop the dust from blowing over there because they live there years now and the dust usually blow across there. It's nothing new," added Thomas.