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Fix Palisadoes shoreline before hurricanes come

Published:Wednesday | May 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dennie Quill, Columnist

We are mere days away from the start of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season and the stalled Palisadoes Shoreline Rehabilitation Project is worrisome, to say the least. There are expected to be 12-15 named storms this season, and even if this does not sound as ominous as in the past, let's not forget that it only takes one hit to produce destruction and mayhem to our country.

The dispute about haulage rates which has caused the truckers to shut down their engines since last week needs to be resolved urgently so that the work can resume on this very important project.

According to news reports, National Works Agency personnel have been beating their chest for the significant progress they have made on the project. How quickly these gains could be reversed if the country is pounded by an early-season storm accompanied by powerful surges. Even with fairly reliable predictions from meteorologists, hurricanes remain lethal, with the potential to deliver the unexpected. So it is foolhardy not to take precautions.

Critical work

As it is right now, traffic on that roadway has been reduced to a crawl to facilitate the work, which involves widening four kilometres of roadway and raising the road to 3.2 metres above sea level. The experts have determined that this is what is necessary to render the road capable of withstanding the effects of a Category Four hurricane.

This roadway is a vital piece of infrastructure, providing the only link to one of the country's international airports. The rehabilitation work is, therefore, critical to reduce its vulnerability to disaster. And there are historic notes to illustrate what hurricane storm surges can do to an area such as this.

For example, the impact of increased wave activity on the Palisadoes shoreline during a past hurricane resulted in flooding and a total shutdown of airport activities. And to think this hurricane did not make a direct hit on the island and merely skirted the coast.

One can conjure up all sorts of difficulties in having an international airport and the main access road closed. For instance, there are grave implications for the delivery of emergency and relief supplies.

Potential disaster

A scenario that would be extremely painful is one in which a hurricane comes ashore on the eastern coast of the island, producing storm surges along the way. This could have severe consequences for the Palisadoes shoreline project. Strong waves and surges could create havoc while construction debris could also pose a serious problem. It means that we cannot take lightly the work being undertaken here, and it should proceed briskly.

Fact is, the entire country should be in hurricane-preparedness mode in order to bolster the nation's ability to respond effectively to any such disaster. In the same vein, householders should be rolling out their personal disaster plans, which must include securing property and gathering supplies to weather any storm.

Determining the best approach to resolve the impasse requires a collaborative effort involving the president of the All Island Truckers' Association, subcontractors, main contractor China Harbour, and the appropriate governmental authorities. A speedy resolution is most desirable.

Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and denniequill@hotmail.com.