Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
LINSTEAD, St Catherine:
ANGELLA MCINTOSH yearns to enjoy a breath of fresh air from the comfort of her home in the New Works Housing Scheme on the outskirts of Linstead in north-west St Catherine.
The scheme, an offshoot of the New Works Sugar Estate, was developed by the Sugar Industry Housing Limited in 1979. The National Housing Trust provided financing for the project.
McIntosh's house is situated beside one of the three sewage systems built to cater to the community. She told The Gleaner that in an effort to keep out the foul odour, which it often emanates, she had to keep her windows and doors closed permanently.
"Sometimes, I am literally marooned in my house, especially at nights when the smell is at its highest," she said.
The residents told The Gleaner that the odour had become unbearable, particularly at night.
"Oh gosh, it's stink! You can't catch yuh breath at nights," said a male resident in his 40s.
In fact, McIntosh said in former years, the National Water Commission (NWC) used to maintain the systems.
"The NWC waste-water section used to come on a monthly basis and bush the areas, flush them, and throw white lime to keep down the stench at nights," she said.
She indicated that over time, however, the systems outgrew their purpose.
"The waste-water systems got so bad that it was no longer necessary to flush them because as they (NWC) drove off, they would overflow," she noted.
Rehabilitate the system
In light of this, she said the NWC decided to take steps to rehabilitate the system.
"They decided to do an estimate, to do a drawing for the systems to be rehabilitated. Both were done, and it was just for funding, $11 million at the time, to be identified to rehabilitate the three systems. That was about 2008, and nothing was done," a frustrated McIntosh related.
Residents of the small housing scheme complained that since that time, the NWC has stopped maintaining the systems.
"They said it isn't their responsibility, so all three lots have now become forests. I used to pay out of my pocket to bush the one beside me, but I can no longer afford it," lamented McIntosh, president, New Works Citizens' Association.
The association's vice-president, Egbert Steele, said despite challenges, he tried to bush the lot located near the main road.
"We have a gutter that leads from that pit, so some Sunday morning time, I get up early and clean the gutter so that when it overflows the water can move along freely," he explained.
Jeanette Bogle, with Steele's assistance, tries to keep the other site cleans. "That too is challenging," she said.
"It overflows, too, and the scent is really bad, especially at night," added a female resident.
McIntosh showed The Gleaner a copy of a letter dated March 23, 2006, addressed to the NWC seeking assistance to rectify the problem. She said it proved futile.
The distraught residents said in their quest to mitigate the health risk, they wrote to Dr Horace Chang when he was minister of water and housing.
The Gleaner was also shown a copy of another letter dated July 28, 2008, signed by Gaile Walters, legal counsel, NWC, addressed to Chang.
"While the NWC does supply water to some 20 accounts at this scheme, we have never taken over its infrastructure, nor do we impose sewage charges on those accounts," read a section of the letter.
The letter further explained, "We have in the past, based on requests by members of the community, done some maintenance work in the form of bushing and other ordinary maintenance work. This type of work cannot be treated as taking over the works, and to quote the original writer, is more in keeping with the altruism of corporate social responsibility."
Now, the residents say they have nowhere to turn for assistance and are calling on Member of Parliament Robert Pickersgill, who is the minister of water, land, environment, and climate change to address the issue.
"We are pleading for help because of the three sewage systems. None of them is working. The sewage flows freely on the land and the stench has become unbearable," McIntosh said.
While the association does not have the capacity to rehabilitate the sewage systems, over the years, the members have upgraded the playing field, as well as maintained the two mini-parks the community boasts.
"I love to see the place clean and nice, and I try to maintain this park," Rose Williams said about the smaller park. "If only we could get help with the sewage systems, everything would be fine," she added.