Last update: 05-Dec-2013 1:31 am
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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KP Lands squatters worry about losing homes
Work on an extension of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway to bypass Valencia Junction has not yet started, but the $100 million project is already embroiled in controversy. Squatters at KP Lands, Valencia, claim they were not consulted by the People’s Partnership Government about the work which will bring an end to years of congestion at Valencia Junction. They are worried that they could lose their homes, or be relocated once construction of the roadway begins.
The three-kilometre stretch of bypass will begin at Antigua Road, Valencia and end at Kangalee Street, 100 metres east of the junction. The land is being prepared by the Lands Settlement Agency (LSA) and the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure is responsible for the project. Last Wednesday, several of the squatters, who live on forest reserve lands, met to vent their feelings.
Spokesman Wendell “Bigs” Superville said some were recently awakened by the sound of heavy machinery grading lands at the front, back and sides of their homes in preparation for the roadway. They also noticed that stakes had been placed in the ground along Sapphire and Topaz drives in line with some of their homes. The pickets mark where work is expected to be done.
A Sunday Guardian reporter visiting the area observed that the land grading ended on the bank of a river close to the squatters’ homes. However, both the LSA and Ministry denied being involved. The squatters are confused about whom is responsible. Superville said several of the 100 homes in the settlement will have to be demolished. He said workers on the site told them they would be relocated to Kangalee Street, an area where they said there is no water, roads and electricity and was plagued with crime and violence.
“Miss, nobody consulted with us about this bypass, nobody,” Superville said. “They not even saying if we would have to move from here and if so, where they would put us.” Superville said officials of the relevant agencies met with the residents of Kangalee Street but not with them. Villagers John Lewis, Richard Yearwood, Nicole Bruce and Kevon Byron supported Superville’s claims.
Some squatters admitted that they confronted a work crew last week after they destroyed crops planted by farmer Brian Bartholomew. Bartholomew said he regretted the day he voted for the PP. “They got my vote because I thought they were going to regularise us,” he said. Lewis said he too was disappointed and felt betrayed. “After what happen here, that is it with me.”
The squatters admitted that the area was once a PNM stronghold but because of neglect they voted for the PP. “They don’t realise that they could end up in the same khaki pants as the PNM.” Lewis said the PNM tried to relocate them in 2006 but they had objected. “Look what happen to them four years later. The people voted the PNM out.”
Programme manager of the Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency (Pure) Hayden Phillip said the residents were consulted and expressed surprise at their claims. Phillip said for years residents of KP Lands and Kangalee have been squatting on the reserve which is an “environmental sensitive area.” He said talks between the LSA and residents about regularisation had been going on “I don’t know for how long.”
Insisting that the roadway was not a major highway to Manzanilla but an interim solution, Phillip said it was proposed that the reserve be used as a buffer zone on one side, with the residents occupying the other. The buffer, Phillip explained, will deter people from squatting and damaging the land. Two bridges will be constructed, he said and the estimated cost of the project is $100 million.
Phillip said a contract has not yet been awarded and the ministry did not give any directives to start preliminary work. “We will be skirting the protected lands because you are not supposed to build on it. We will fence the entire area there, so people will not go beyond a certain point because they are damaging the eco-system.”
Told that the residents felt the bypass was a political ploy by the Government to muster votes for the next local government election, Phillip said the roadway was long overdue. He said initially plans were to build a highway to Manzanilla. “This highway was supposed to go along Cumuto Road, through Sangre Grande and then Manzanilla but things got shelved.” Phillip said from next year, anyone driving to Sangre Grande, Manzanilla, Toco, or Sans Souci would no longer have “to go to the Valencia Junction.”
Phillips said he attended a meeting last Monday with officials of the LSA, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, Toco/Sangre Grande MP Dr Rupert Griffith and the residents and he knew of three houses that were in a direct path of the roadway. “Throughout all the meetings we ensured that nothing would be done unless we have consultation with the people. In that meeting on Monday we had an agreement that they will allow us to come and do our soil tests.”
On Thursday, CEO of the LSA Hazar Hosein said before his agency relocates anyone, they must first have discussion with Pure. Hosein said six residents of Kangalee Street were to be relocated “in the same area.” With regards to KP Lands, he said he had to get clarification on the number of people who will be affected. Hosein promised to send a team on the site to investigate what work was being done in the area. “I need to know what lands are being cleared. I have to find out.”
He said if the residents have to be relocated, the LSA would find an area close to where they live “to cause minimal disruptions”. Hosein could not say how many squatters will be relocated. Chairman of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation Keshwar Maharaj said as far as he knows there was dialogue among all parties involved.
“I find it strange that these guys coming to say so now. I am not aware that houses on KP Lands would be affected because that was not in the plan...that the roadway would affect houses,” he said.
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