WMC surprised by reports of burials at Roaring River
Savanna-la-Mar Mayor Bertel Moore has said he will be investigating reports that ‘backyard style’ burials are taking place in the Roaring River community, which could contaminate one of the primary sources of domestic water in the western parish.
However, the mayor’s statement appears to be at odds with at least one resident of the Roaring River community, who told The Gleaner that over the past 30 years, residents have been getting permission from the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation (WMC), of which Moore is the chairman, to carry out burials on their properties.
“More than 30 years ago, we could not bury anybody in this community (but) parish council gave us (permission) for anybody who has their own land in this place you could bury on your property,” Devon Shirley, a tour guide who lives in the community, told The Gleaner in a recent interview.
“If it wasn’t okay for the parish council, they would not give the okay for people to bury around here,” the 56-year-old Shirley added.
However, Moore is flatly dismissing Shirley’s claim, saying no burials should be taking place near any watershed area, especially one of such importance as the Roaring River.
“No, no, we would never do that,” said Moore, in rejecting Shirley’s claim that the WMC had been giving permission for burials in the Roaring River community.
“I would have to check because at the council, we have some blacklisted areas, and I am 100 per cent sure that that would be one of the blacklisted areas,” added Moore.
Citing health and environmental concerns, the Westmoreland public health services recently expanded their blacklist on backyard burials by adding the Norman Manley Boulevard, which runs alongside Negril’s famous seven-mile white-sand beach, to the list.
Besides Norman Manley Boulevard, the blacklisted areas include Old Hope Wharf in Broughton, Little Bay, Bath, Strathbogie, McNeil Lands, Big Bridge, Egypt Gardens, and sections of Broughton, close to the morass.
“If that (Roaring River) is not one of them, that is a big oversight,” said Moore. “No burial should be taking place in that area. It’s one of our main water sources and I will have to check into it immediately.”
Moore said he was inclined to believe that if burials are in fact taking place, they are taking place without the knowledge and consent of the WMC. However, he did concede that if the area is not on the blacklist, the cashier at the WMC could well be collecting burial fees to facilitate burials.
Meanwhile, Steve Morris, the chief public health inspector for Westmoreland, whose tenure commenced in 2009, appeared shocked when The Gleaner informed him of the development. He said Roaring River, without question, is a blacklisted area for home burials, and if it’s not on the list it’s a ‘grave oversight’.
Morris said he, too, would be making checks as to why the area was not on the list and to ensure that it is permanently banned, especially as it relates to the fact that chemicals used to embalm bodies could easily seep into the water supply and contaminate it.
On a recent visit to Roaring River, The Gleaner observed several graves. However, none of them appear to be freshly built.