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Chicken farmer bests Alcoa in court fight

Published:Friday | November 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM
The Jamalco plant in Clarendon is managed by Alcoa Minerals of Jamaica, which owns 55 per cent of the operation. - File

McPherse Thompson, Assistant Editor - Business

The Supreme Court has ordered Alcoa Minerals of Jamaica to compensate poultry farmer Orinthia Hanson for business losses caused by a faulty drainage system developed by the mining company.

The J$30-million award to Hanson, who has operated a poultry farm in Toll Gate, Clarendon, for more than 30 years, includes restoration cost for three poultry houses each capable of housing 10,000 birds, as well as loss of contract with Jamaica Broilers Group for the supply of broiler chickens.

The four-year-old case, which concluded last month on October 18, surrounded a 37-acre property that was developed by Alcoa for the resettlement of residents moved from bauxite lands at McGilchrist Palms, which adjoins Hanson's farm.

Alcoa Jamaica, the managing partner in Jamalco, obtained approval in 2000 to subdivide a portion of the land into a mix of 104 farm and residential lots.

In early 2002, the company constructed a housing develop-ment, mainly for the resettlement. The development included two detention ponds as part of the drainage system.

Hanson filed a claim against Alcoa Minerals of Jamaica on May 14, 2008 to recover damages for negligence and or nuisance, contending that between 2002 and 2005 the company caused damage to her premises as a result of flooding.

She contended that Alcoa failed to construct a proper and adequate drainage facility or dam to prevent water escaping from its premises to her property.

According to the judgment, the first of those floods occurred on May 23, 2002 when the catchment overflowed and swamped the farm, including her home. Hanson lost 30,000 chickens, 11 goats and three cows.

Hanson, who provided annual earnings to support her claim, said that before 2005 her farming operations were a tremendous success.

In expert testimony presented to the court, Consulting Engineer Basil Poorman asserted in his report that the flooding was caused by the denudation of the vegetative cover in the area and the filling up of three sink-holes - possibly with the earth excavated from the pond - into which storm water would drain prior to construction of the houses.

The report notes that before construction started, the area was heavily wooded.

"This vegetative growth resulted in slow movement of storm water over the land with a considerable amount percolating into the soil, as well as draining into three undisturbed sinkholes on the property, thus reducing the amount of actual runoff," Poorman said.

The judgment also noted that Hydrology Consultants Limited was commissioned to implement a flood study centred on the McGilchrist Palms housing sub-division and to determine the causeof the flooding at the Hanson farm, as well as the role played by the housing development in those events.

The consultants noted that the Clarendon Parish Council did not require technical justification of the drainage design or details of the drainage structure and none was provided by Jamalco.

They concluded that even before the housing development, the runoff of water would have completely flooded Hanson's chicken houses .

Poorman disputed that finding, however, citing the lack of vegetation cover and the filling up of the three sinkholes, as well as a number of small ponding areas.

In his summation of the case, Supreme Court Justice Lennox Campbell noted that the evidence of the experts was crucial in the determination of the cause of the flooding of Hanson's property.

Hanson, in her claim for damages, said she had a contract with Jamaica Broilers since 1976 and did seven crops per year, but that was reduced to three per year after 2002, and no more birds were placed with her after the flooding in June 2005.

Justice Campbell awarded Hanson J$30.6 million with interest from October 2, 2008 to October 18, 2012 for birds lost in three flooding events; for livestock, which include 17 goats, pigs and six cows; and restoration costs of the three chicken houses.

The award also covered loss of contract with Jamaica Broilers at an average of six flocks annually for the years 2002 to 2006, as well as for contracts covering the years 2007 to 2010.