Wed | Sep 27, 2023

Stink rising over Riverton land row

Settlers resisting eviction bid

Published:Friday | November 5, 2021 | 12:10 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
A woman walks along an unpaved road in Riverton City, western St Andrew, on Thursday. Informal settlers say they are being hounded off property they have called home for decades.
A woman walks along an unpaved road in Riverton City, western St Andrew, on Thursday. Informal settlers say they are being hounded off property they have called home for decades.

Talks for the removal and compensation of residents of an informal settlement along Portland Avenue in Riverton apparently may have taken a deadly turn after a businessman co-opted as a negotiator between the owners and residents was killed on Tuesday.

Dead is 64-year-old Norman Dunkley, of Portmore, St Catherine.

Dunkley, residents told The Gleaner, met with them on several occasions at the request of the landowners trying to convince them to move and negotiate compensation.

He was shot dead in the community by a lone gunman.

Dunkley operated a trucking company in the community.

The Hunts Bay police are investigating the homicide.

The land row was raised in the House of Representatives on Wednesday by St Andrew Western Member of Parliament Anthony Hylton during his State of the Constituency Debate presentation.

Hylton said many of the residents took refuge from the ‘Back-o-wall’ slum in Kingston Western and have eked out a living for themselves and families, many of whom still occupy lands in the largely poor community of Riverton City, some for as long as 60 years.

“Without any consultation with either the member of parliament, the councillor, or the citizens, someone who previously owned land elsewhere along the industrial belt shows up to insist that the people be removed from the land to make way for a factory development,” he told lawmakers.

Hylton decried purported plans for the establishment of a factory in the residential settlement, suggesting that the commercialisation plan harked back to industrial-age England in the late 16th to early 17th century.

The political representative warned that tensions were rising in the area and charged that it appeared that the purported landowners had no proof of possession.

Hylton, who did not name the alleged landowners, claimed that the development initiative was backed by the Ministry of Housing.

“The person claiming to have purchased the land, without sufficient proof of having done so lawfully, is insisting that the families remove themselves from the land immediately or face being fenced in behind a wall to be built.

“Tension is rising in the area. Predictably, the area is on edge,” Hylton said.

Residents, meanwhile, told The Gleaner on Thursday that they felt cheated and would not move as they have nowhere to go.

“It affect me a lot because me live pon di land about 18 years and it was never like that. It was swamp and everything, and as it a develop and look like land now, I hear this thing ‘bout buying the land,” a resident, who declined to have their name published, said.

The residents said they first heard that the land was bought in 2019 and got notices on September 15, 2021.

They were given one month to leave the area.

“She came back a week later in September and started pushing off the trees. She said we need to give her an estimate of how much we want for the land, and we said we not giving her an estimate because we don’t have anywhere else to go,” another resident said.

A resident of 36 years said she was told by a third party that a settlement of $345,000 per household could be reached with the owners, who were willing to pay $3 million.

“Wi councillor and wi MP say we not suppose to write or come to no agreement. ... Suppose you see my house, it big, it have whole heap of concrete more than board. We have tile, concrete, six bedrooms and four bathrooms,” said the resident, adding that 14 persons lived in that house.

Children, too, have been rattled by the relocation order, parents have said.

“They doing online class, but they can’t get to focus. My daughter heard that we have to move. We don’t have anywhere to go,” a resident said.

However, a Riverton man says he welcomes the development.

“That factory can come. We nah fight against the factory; it going help we. Is only because they don’t have anywhere to go,” he said.

Hylton could not be reached for further comment.

When contacted, Hazel Anderson, councillor for the Seaview Gardens division,referred questions from The Gleaner to Hylton.