Like many other Housing Development Corporation (HDC) projects, Mayaro’s Coconut Grove Development faces its share of woes, including complaints of constant flooding due to improper drainage.
Now homeowners live in fear that the development in which they live could turn into a disaster zone if adverse weather conditions intensify.
The Sunday Guardian visited the development earlier this week, where residents were trapped in their homes for three days—October 19, 20 and 21—when most major rivers in the country burst their banks due to excessive rainfall.
But the residents in Coconut Grove said the flooding was not only caused by heavy rainfall—whenever the ocean tide is high, the Ortoire River, which borders the development to the west, floods the drains. As a result, the drains in and around the houses are filled to capacity for most of the day. Rainfall only adds to the problem and street flooding has become a regular occurrence.
There are 58 houses in the development, which was started in 2004 by the People’s National Movement (PNM) under the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott). Six of the 58 units remain vacant up to this day.
Resident Sharon Rogers said she and her family were trapped as the water rose quickly and reached close to three feet high in her yard. The houses in which they live are built on short stilts, about three feet high, which meant that the water was close to entering their homes. Families who did not want to brave the murky floodwaters to get out were marooned in their homes.
“We couldn’t come out in that water, it was very unsanitary because you could see people’s cesspit tank covers floating, so there was raw sewerage in that water,” she said.
Rogers said this was the third time she has experienced major flooding in the last year. She has been living in the development for nine years.
“My son said it’s like we are living in a muddy lake. For about three days we couldn’t come out, the entire development was covered in water because the river is just about 300 feet from the development so as soon as it flows, we get flood.”
She said it was the worst flooding that community had experienced and it has brought on fears that Coconut Grove can face a disaster just like Greenvale.
“It is cause for concern because if the rain continued to fall, we would have gotten water in our homes.”
Two streets away, Sarah Ramsey-Johnson expressed similar fears.
“What is going to happen to us the day we get flooding like Greenvale? Everyone in this development will drown,” she said.
Ramsey-Johnson said initially she didn’t want a house in Coconut Grove because she knew it was built on reclaimed swamp land.
“I didn’t have a choice, I had waited seven years for a call. When I got it and I came here, people told me to brace for flood, but someone had told me if I gave back the house for any reason, I wouldn’t get another, so I stuck it out,” she said.
She said the house cost her $240,000.
Ramsey-Johnson, who lives closer to the river than Rogers, said the water in her yard rose much higher.
“If it had come any higher, it was coming inside the house. I don’t know what I’ll do if we end up like Greenvale, I don’t think I can even afford to think about starting over.”
She said when she first moved in, she lost a washing machine and a water pump to floodwaters.
“We didn’t take the warning seriously and we paid for it. Now, anytime a little rain falls, we put up our stuff on heights and don’t take it down for a few days.”
Another resident, Khadine George said she was afraid that snakes and other reptiles would come into her home during the flood. George said the drainage in the area was not adequate and no one cleans the drains.
She also complained that floodwaters settle under the houses, creating a breeding ground for mosquitoes and sandflies.
“Mosquitoes are one of our biggest problems here, we have to battle them every evening.”
Several houses away, Dookhani Dookie, 71, who lives with her daughter in the house closest to the river, lamented that the floodwaters were the highest she had ever seen.
Dookie said the water reached the fourth step on the staircase to enter the house.
“We couldn’t come out or do anything, we just had to stay inside for the whole weekend,” she said.
The construction seemed to have stopped at Dookie’s home, with several lots next to her home vacant.
One resident, who asked not to be named, blamed the constant flooding on a lack of proper planning during the construction.
“Once the tide comes up in the river, the drains in Coconut Grove are always filled. I have never seen those drains empty. And when the drains are full and the slightest rain falls, the water has nowhere to go but in our yards,” he said.
Contract moves from $11M to $19M
Contractor Alves Easteel was awarded the contract at an original price of $11 million.
The project was supposed to be completed by June 30, 2007. At a HDC board meeting under then chairman Andre Monteil on January 26, 2007, the corporation took over the Coconut Grove Project. At that time, it was noted that the expected cost of the completed project by Udecott was over $12 million after $700,000 was paid for project management consultant fees to ML & Associates.
It was also noted that the Coconut Grove project, along with the Beverly Hills, Laventille project, the Lady Young Road, Morvant project, the Mendez Drive, Champs Fleurs project, the A River Runs Through It, Arima project, and the Roy Joseph Street, San Fernando project had encountered delays and increased costs.
At that meeting, a decision was taken to instruct contractors to “re-mobilise and complete the multi-family housing projects” for reviewed costs.
It was noted that at that time, over $4 million had been spent on the Coconut Grove project. The cost on completion was listed as over $16 million.
According to a newspaper report, when the houses were allocated on January 28, 2009, and keys were handed out for 51 of the 58 houses in the development, the HDC gave the cost of the project as $18.7 million.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to HDC chairman Newman George and Managing Director Brent Lyons for comment without success. Questions sent to both men via Whatsapp were not answered.
Concerns raised in Parliament in 2008: Swamp decimated, expect a disaster
During a budget debate in Parliament in September 2008, then Opposition MP for Mayaro Winston "Gypsy" Peters raised several concerns about the Coconut Grove project.
Peters said the swamp had been decimated to make room for houses but some of the units constructed were demolished after they flooded during construction.
“Only recently in Mayaro they went ahead in their haste to bring people and put them in homes—there people really need homes; some are still under their grandmother's, mother's and father's houses. In their haste to build these homes, they decimated the swamp. They built the homes so quickly that after three floods they had to demolish five of them and now the people are living in some other houses they built on the other side of the road,” Peters had said.
Peters, who was born and bred in Mayaro, warned that the Ortoire River would overflow and flood the development.
“It is only a matter of time before we have some kind of rip tide and the Ortoire River overflows its banks and all those houses are washed away and we have some kind of disaster. That is a disaster waiting to happen. I hope it never does, but it looks like that.”
In a Sunday Guardian story in 2009, then Housing Ministry communications director Annabelle Brasnell said the HDC had done "major drainage and water control work on the project".
Brasnell said then that four-feet-high pillars had been built to support the houses but were "shortened" when the land around the houses were later backfilled.