Barrington Flemming, Gleaner Writer
The municipal abattoir along Howard Cooke Boulevard in Montego Bay is at the centre of a growing controversy between the St James Parish Council and the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC), which owns the land and building housing the facility.
The controversy stems from Mayor of Montego Bay Charles Sinclair's proposal to divest the operations at the slaughterhouse, which has long been operated by the parish council, into private hands.
However, operations officer at the JRC, Bonitto Gayle, told The Gleaner on Wednesday that the council has no legal right to the land or building, which houses the abattoir.
"The St James Parish Council has no contractual agreement with the Jamaica Railway Corporation, which in the year 1987 terminated a previous agreement it had with the council," Gayle explained.
"Since then, no agreement has been signed with the parish council. Additionally, the JRC had taken the decision to cease to operate that building as an abattoir."
He also indicated that based on that the council was advised that the abattoir should be relocated. Gayle said the JRC signed a one-year renewable lease agreement in June 2011 with Montego Bay businesswoman Claudette Samuels, under which she has jurisdiction over the land and building housing the abattoir and other lands surrounding the area and terminating at the train shed.
Sinclair told The Gleaner that while he acknowledged that JRC owns the land and building, he was unaware that the company had rescinded any agreement it had with the parish council.
"I have spoken with the minister (of transport, Mike Henry) and we have written to the prime minister on the issue regarding the possession, occupation of the property that it has always been used as the abattoir and that the railway corporation does not seem to have any plan that I have seen that would include the use of that particular property, so we are continuing to maintain our possessor's right to the property that we have had for decades."
The mayor also said he was unaware of any agreement signed with Samuels but he has had information that she has been subletting sections of the property.
"I heard of her that she has been subletting sections of the property for people to put up temporary shacks, which amounts to technically a subdivision," he stated. "It was causing the area to become dilapidated, which in essence was not aesthetically pleasing, so we had concerns about that. I also see some persons putting up some structures more significant than shacks."
Samuels said this was not her first agreement with the JRC, telling The Gleaner she has done a major clean-up and improvement of the area which posed a serious health hazard.
"Since the closure of the abattoir, illegal slaughter takes place there and bloody water and entrails flow straight into the sea. Maggots were a regular feature around the area and I had the place sanitised," she said.
"My agreement with the JRC says that the building which once housed the abattoir is not to be used for that purpose anymore and that the operations should be relocated."
The businesswoman also claimed that JRC had in the past suggested a relocation of the abattoir to Montpelier. The St James Parish Council upgraded the abattoir at a cost of $4.5 million in 2003 with a new disposal system to prevent effluent from seeping into the Montego Bay Marine Park. The abattoir was previously ordered closed by the St James Health Department for not meeting its standards.