Demolition fuss

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Local developer Can-Cara Ltd has been left scrambling after China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) demolished sections of a building that housed the company’s operations in Irwin, St James.

The building, which Can-Cara said the National Land Agency (NLA) gave it permission to use almost 20 years ago, is to be completely razed to make way for the Montego Bay Perimeter Road. CHEC is the contractor for the bypass road.

Can-Cara chairman and CEO Joseph “Junior” Lincoln has labelled CHEC as disrespectful for the way it handled the issue. He said CHEC employees told his staff to exit the building and they scrambled to secure a few items before the structure was hit with heavy duty equipment.

CHEC, however, has disputed that version of events.

The demolition was done in early September and Can-Cara’s operations have been disrupted in the weeks since. It is still without a landline and Internet service, disrupting its ability to e-mail customers’ bills. It moved its operations to a nearby building which was opened when the company began working on the Union Acres housing development in 2022.

“When it was happening, everybody was so frightened. They called the head office in Kingston, where I am, and I couldn’t believe what they were telling me. I tried to speak to the so-called supervisor a bit and his comments were he’s ‘not talking to nobody, everybody must just come out’ and they start to flatten the building,” Lincoln told the Jamaica Observer on Thursday.

“The back of the building, our boardroom, other rooms at the back were knocked down, so only the front part was left; maybe about two rooms out of maybe eight or nine rooms,” he said.

Lincoln also flayed National Road Operating and Constructing Company Limited (NROCC), which is managing the US$274.5-million bypass project on behalf of the Jamaican Government, as arrogant for its failure to even broach the topic of compensation.

Up to last December, 42 per cent of the land needed for the bypass project had been acquired. Additional acquisitions were slated for fiscal year 2023/2024 and a total of $12.6 billion was allocated to the project for fiscal year 2024/2025, if needed.

While Lincoln conceded that Can-Cara never owned the property, he argued that they had pumped millions into refurbishing the structure that had been at the mercy of squatters before his company moved in with the blessing of the NLA.

“Even squatters have rights, put it that way, and we weren’t squatters at the time. There’s allocation for settling these matters [of land acquisition to make way for projects] around the country. They did not do anything like that,” said Lincoln whose company has worked on housing developments across Jamaica, including Meadows of Irwin and the under-construction Union Acres in St James.

He told the Sunday Observer that about a year ago NROCC gave written notice that they should vacate the property Can-Cara was using as its St James base. He has been waiting, since then, he explained, for a discussion on how much his company would be compensated.

“I have possession of the property for the last 20 years and we invested heavily into that building; and there are [rules] in acquiring land. Even the squatter, you can’t just go in and do that to a squatter, you have to compensate,” he said.

“The laws are there; and if you want me to, I can quote you these sections in the law… that the Government has been using up and down the country. But in this case, they did not use that at all, no discussion!” he added.

However, NROCC had a different version of the story. It said in keeping with the Land Acquisition Act, notices were served on Lot 182 Cashew Grove in March 2022.

“Can-Cara wrote to NROCC in June 2023, with several enquiries to include that of a ‘Vet House’ which was subsequently discovered to be a claim of occupation of structures that were being purchased from the Ministry of Housing, Lot 182 Cashew Grove,” NROCC’s Senior Manager Land Acquisition Phillip Myers said in written replies to the Sunday Observer Thursday evening.

He explained that in order to accommodate work on the bypass, NROCC bought the land in question from the Ministry of Housing in July 2022. A condition of sale was that the land should be vacant. NROCC then served Can-Cara with notice to vacate by August 31, 2023.

“On August 21, 2023, Can-Cara advised… that they were planning their relocation to facilities in Meadows of Irwin. It was understood that they would relocate by August 31, 2023,” said Myers.

He added that Can-Cara asked for more time to relocate a warehouse it had on the property and NROCC agreed. According to Can-Cara’s Lincoln, that structure was a 100 x 45 foot dome that took some time to dismantle after the demolition.

“It is our understanding that the contractor worked with Can-Cara staff to relocate elements of furniture to the proposed location at Meadows of Irwin. Subsequently, partial demolition at the rear of the vacated offices commenced on September 7, 2023, to prevent future squatting,” said Myers.

That description of what happened is a far cry from Can-Cara’s version of events. Lincoln said his employees had been left “traumatised”.

“They had to rush out,” he said. “It’s in the hands of the lawyers.”

He added, “It could have so easily been sorted out without all of this. Just go about it the right way… We are builders. We are developers. We’re water and sewerage providers. So we understand building. So to even coordinate, discuss what is the best way of doing ‘this’ while you’re doing ‘that’… I think that is what annoyed me so much; the disrespect that was shown.”