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$100m Valencia bypass hits bumpy road squatters grabbing land
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Children sit at the front of their home in KP Lands, Valencia. At the front of their home is a stake with flag in the ground, indicating where the Valencia bypass will be constructed. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

Construction of the $100 million Valencia bypass has hit a bumpy road. Programme manager of the Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency (Pure) Hayden Phillip on Friday confirmed that the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure, under which Pure falls, has been faced with delays with the multi-million dollar bypass. Government indicated the bypass was to be completed just before end of 2014. Once constructed, the bypass is expected to bring an end to years of congestion for motorists heading into Valencia, Sangre Grande and Toco.



The bypass is being delayed by the 29 residents at KP Lands and Kangalee Street, whose homes and agricultural plots are in the path of the bypass. Work on the four-kilometres highway began on the outskirts of the two squatting settlements a few weeks ago. However, the work has stalled.



Phillip said despite several consultations with the residents and stakeholders, problems continue to crop up. On Wednesday, Phillip said, he spoke to Minister of Works and Infrastructure Dr Suruj Rambachan about the issues that were hampering their work. Pure’s headache involves new squatters grabbing state lands, while individuals posing as farmers began seeking compensation for crops that were recently planted.


 “It is all kinds of problems. This will have an effect on the schedule of work we have to do.” Phillip said tomorrow a meeting would be held with stakeholders and Rambachan: “hopefully to get this thing sorted out.” Phillip said work on the Silica Sands and Barbuda roads have started, while construction of two bridges at KP Lands and Kangalee Street were being delayed. He, however, could not say when construction of the bypass would begin at these two sites. “Hopefully by Monday (tomorrow) I will know.”



Four contractors, three phases for construction
The agencies working to get the highway constructed are the Office of the Commissioner of State Lands, Pure, and the Lands Settlement Agency (LSA). The Web site of the ministry stated that construction of the bypass would be done in three phases. 
• Phase one entails rehabilitation of Barbuda Extension and will include construction of concrete drainage channels.  
• In phase two, Silica Sands Road will be rehabilitated and widened to include two lanes and shoulders.
• The final phase will be the construction of a new roadway that will take commuters to the Eastern Main Road, after Valencia Junction.


Four contractors—Seereeram Brothers, Jusamco, Coosal, and Lutchmansingh Transport have been hired to undertake the work, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2014, Phillip said. Asked if the $100 million bypass would be money well spent, Phillip said KP Lands and Kangalee fall within the Aripo Savannah, which is a protected forest reserve. “There are indigenous plants in there that no where else in the world has. People are not supposed to be there.”


Once the bypass is constructed, a fence will border the area to deter squatters from gaining entry, Phillip said. He said if the residents and farmers show resistance, the matter would be handled. “Each agency said they are going to do what they have to do.” If everything goes according to plan, Phillip said, work on the bypass could  restart this week.



Hazar: Residents running workers out
CEO of the LSA Hazar Hosein said the squatters were not covered by law and so, could not demand government houses. “How could that be fair to other citizens of the country who have been waiting in line for housing? This cannot be a free for all. Whose land it is? It is the State’s land.” Hazar admitted the LSA was faced with challenges. 



“This is posing as a problem. We hired consultants to do the land use plan in the Kangalee area because we want to do proper development works such as roads and drains, and the residents run the people out last week.” Developmental work is expected to begin in February and end in nine months. Tenders have not gone out for the developmental works. Hazar said what the LSA needed was proper containment legislation to deal with unscrupulous people.


“This could keep back the work. What we would have to do is look for an alternative solution. This is the same situation we have all over the country; People claiming land that is not theirs.” The LSA was authorised under the State Land Regularisation of Tenure Act number 25 of 1998, to prevent and contain further squatting on state lands and to regularise eligible existing squatters. 



A person who is eligible for regularisation must have occupied a dwelling house on the property prior to January 1, 1998 and applied for a Certificate of Comfort before 2000.



Farmers unsure of their livelihood
By January farmers occupying agricultural lands at Kangalee would have to vacate their plots to make way for the bypass. Farmer Anthony Dean said while he was willing to surrender his two-acre parcel,  the Government has not given a commitment to provide him with another piece of land to plant his crops. Dean was only given a $150,000 grant to build a new home in the community. He would have to repay the T&T Mortgage Finance for the grant.


Dean said he was unsure of his future and felt helpless. “I don’t know what will be my position next year. Technically, I am out of a job.” Stevenson Alexander, a member of the Kangalee Street Extension Committee, said the farmers’ lives are now in limbo. Farmer Damien Baksh said three months ago, $50,000 of his crops were destroyed. He is yet to be compensated. 



President of the committee, Darryl James said he intends to raise several issues in the next meeting, among them:
• Areas allocated to affected residents are occupied or under cultivation.
• Plots under cultivation have been deemed vacant on LSA’s map.
• What was distributed as compensation packages to affected residents were in fact LSA’s Land for the Landless forms. 



KP Land resident Wendell “Bigs” Superville said he was not in support of repaying the $145,000 housing grant. “That can’t do nothing for me. I know nothing comes free, but I find they should give me a HDC house instead. It is a lot of running around I would be faced with. Our next step is to get HDC houses. We ain’t really want this land thing, because it not making sense.”



Businesses: Bypass will not affect our sales
However, on Wednesday the majority of businesses along the bustling Valencia Junction, did not see the bypass affecting or hampering their sales. These businesses include The Rumshop, The Corner Shop and The Original BBQ pigtail. They felt the bypass was a step in the right direction. “It will relieve a lot of stress and traffic, that is for sure,” said businessman Anthony Marchand. 


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