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Orantes Moore, Gleaner Writer
PORT MARIA, St Mary:
THE MAYOR of Port Maria, Levan Freeman, loves his job and the parish he helps to run. Having worked as a special assistant to the late Horace Clarke, former MP for Central St Mary, Freeman has a good understanding of how to organise and manage the parish.
He also has a vision for growth that could help establish St Mary as one of the island's most industrious regions.
Freeman told Rural Xpress: "I want St Mary to be more productive and think we can accomplish many of our economic goals through agriculture and agro-processing.
"We have an experimental agricultural farm in Orange River, but it needs further development and more people to be acquainted with it so they can learn about the technological side of industry."
Aside from kick-starting Jamaica's flagging export economy, Freeman believes 21st-century farming could also help to reduce unemployment.
He said: "We have arable land and plenty of manpower, but agriculture isn't what it was a couple of years ago, so we have to adapt to modern technologies such as the greenhouse farming.
"The costs for ploughing and tilling are very expensive, and the parish's terrain is hilly, but if the Ministry of Agriculture were to subsidise these expenses by giving the Rural Agricultural Development Authority access to a Caterpillar tractor, I think more people would get involved in farming."
Education and skills training are also essential, Freeman insists. He said: "It all begins with education, including training, because as we are aware, not everybody is brilliant academically.
"Generally, in terms of education, we haven't been doing that bad. St Mary High School, which I attended, is the top school in the parish, and Annotto Bay High and St Mary Technical are both making strides from what I've seen. The standard of education is rising in the parish."
Huge income generator
Additionally, Freeman strongly believes focusing on the leisure industry could be a huge income generator for St Mary, particularly if the appropriate steps are taken to develop the parish's coastline.
He said: "The area around Pagee beach in Port Maria is a bay, which is protected by Carbarita Island. That could be a lovely marina, similar to what they have in Portland, but I think ours would be more utilised because we are closer to Ocho Rios and the tourist belt.
"Also, we have a number of underutilised heritage sites such as Firefly, Fort Haldane, Whitehall Estate, Four Rivers Mining, the Brimmer Hall farm tour, and Castleton Botanical Gardens, which are all very historic places."
However, in spite of his good intentions and well-defined objectives, the mayor is sure to face stiff opposition over plans to relocate Port Maria Market, which he hopes to transform into an arcade and food court.
Freeman explains: "There are funds available through the Jamaica Social Investment Fund to develop a market, and in our wisdom as a council, we think the best place for the market would be next to the transportation centre."
As part of his mission to transform Port Maria, St Mary's capital, one of Freeman's first tasks will be to rid the town centre of all street vendors.
He said: "For the festive season, we are trying to relocate vendors and get them away from the corridors of the street. I know they want to be on the main thoroughfares in the town, but we are trying to place them next to the transportation centre.
"We are going to get street lights and clean up the area. We are trying to make sure there is greater order in the town, and it's all in the interests of the citizenry."
Looking ahead, Freeman believes 2014 will be a great year for him and the parish. He said: "After kicking off with the Mayor's Ball at Whitehall Estate on the 25th January, I'll be working assiduously with my colleagues to ensure we have regular community meetings so people can be enlightened.
"We are trying our utmost as a council to develop the parish based on the limited resources available to us."