Big promises for Portland

RESIDENTS of Portland, angry over the lack of water in their pipes and a dust nuisance from road work taking place, could begin to get some relief shortly.

Addressing the weekly post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday, minister with responsibility for water, Matthew Samuda, and Member of Parliament for Portland Western Daryl Vaz announced measures to ease some of the water woes for the residents even as they warned that the ongoing drought will continue to provide challenges.

According to Samuda, Portland, which has traditionally been one of the parishes in the island to record the most rainfall, is now the driest it has been in Jamaica’s history. He noted that this has impacted water supplied by the National Water Commission while many rivers are at their lowest ever levels, leaving small water supply schemes dry.

“In many ways what has affected the parish of Portland is a bit of a ‘perfect storm’…The perfect storm has been impacted by the road work and I think that is impatient of debate,” said Samuda.

“But one of the issues related to the road work that has not come forward in the discussion…is that the road work is not simply the widening of the road, it involves significant investment in the infrastructure for the water supply to the people of Portland.

“The [water supply] systems in Portland are all outdated. They have suffered from a chronic lack of investment over the last 60 years and it is this Government that is implementing a $2.4-billion investment programme into the water mains along the South Coast Highway, a large portion of which is in Portland,” added Samuda.

He argued that the present Administration is investing in the greatest improvement in the water supply for the people of Portland and that should be evident in the future.

“But that doesn’t mean that we are not deeply concerned about the impact the drought is having on the people of Portland. We have to be because it has deeply affected several businesses and it has made the quality of life there deteriorate and it is our job to ensure that the people recover that quality of life,” Samuda told the media briefing.

He said as part of short-term measures the Government will be spending millions of dollars to develop additional water supply schemes and the replacement of electricity pumps to get water to some residents in short order.

In addition, Samuda said the Government has acquired two more trucks to deliver water to residents facing drought, bringing the number of trucks serving the parish to nine and will start distributing some 1,100 water (black) tanks to residents of Portland by next month.

“So I want to assure the residents of Portland that your cries have not stayed in Portland, I certainly have heard because of the ferocious calls from both of your representatives [Members of Parliament]. The Government of Jamaica is investing at a rate that it never has in the water reliability and stability and the resilience of water,” said Samuda as he promised the residents of Portland that every month for the next two years their situation will improve.

In welcoming the announcements from Samuda, Vaz used the post-Cabinet media briefing to underscore that MPs can only lobby on behalf of their constituents as they do not have the authority to address issues such as the water woes.

He noted that residents of Portland are not used to the drought that they are now facing and this has increased their “misery index”.

Vaz said $10 million was spent between January and April to truck water across the parish and a further $10 million is slated to be spent to do trucking just for May and June, even as he accepted that this would not be enough to deal with the water problems facing Portlanders.

“Another reason for the misery index is that people don’t know when they are getting water, either through the pipes, or through trucking. I am calling on the municipal corporation and the water commission to set up community meeting and to find a way to publicise the schedules of the water delivery,” said Vaz.

Turning to the concerns of the residents about the dust nuisance from the road work, Vaz said because the time is so dry any effort to wet the road provides no real relief for residents.

He said he has instead brokered an agreement where the roads will be oiled even before they are ready to be asphalted as part of an increased supervision of the work.

“I want to apologise for the inconvenience, as a member of parliament and behalf of the other Member of Parliament [Ann-Marie Vaz, Portland Eastern]. Despite the fact that we, as members of parliament have no input, the people that we serve are suffering the most and I want to unreservedly apologise in relation to the situation,” added Vaz.