Homeowners facing relocation for new Demerara bridge want fair compensation

-Ming says lands not for sale

An artist’s impression of the new Demerara Harbour Bridge (Ministry of Public Infrastructure rendering)

Ahead of the start of consultations this week, East Bank residents living in the path of one of the proposed approach roads for the new Demerara Harbour Bridge have said they are hoping for adequate compensation from government if they have to move.

Project Manager Rawlston Adams told Sunday Stabroek in an interview on Friday that a meeting is scheduled for Tuesday to begin engagement with residents living on the East Bank.

Adams noted that the bridge will land on the east bank of the Demerara River, a short distance from the Pritipaul Singh Investments Inc, where an approach road will connect it to the East Bank of Demerara Public Road.

Since the approach roads will have to cater for three lanes of traffic, more space is needed and government is seeking to acquire the lands from about three homeowners at the intersection where Houston ends and McDoom begins.

“For us to design the intersection properly, we have to widen the road and it is that process that will need the acquisition of property. The same thing on the other side at Versailles, where the bridge will land at the bank of the river,” he explained.

Adams pointed out that he did not want to get into much of what the discussions will entail but said it was a move to sensitise the residents of the areas on the plans for the bridge.

Sunday Stabroek visited three homeowners whose lands would fall in the path of the approach road on the East Bank. Two spoke with the newspaper on the condition that their names would not be published, with one explaining that he did not want to appear “anxious to sell and end up getting lil bit money” and the other citing personal reasons.

They all said that they knew through the press and from an informal meeting with representatives of the ministry that their homes are in the path of the road. None indicated any objection to moving but they expect to be justly compensated.

“I don’t mind moving because I would want to move from so near to Agricola but them can’t move me from a public road house and expect to give we Hubu Backdam and $10 million,” one of the home owners said.

“Look them gat to get the new bridge and we understand that ’cause the old one brukadown, but that don’t mean them gon’ come gi meh lil money in meh hand and seh gwan duh side. Them gat to mek it right and you well know that if de price right, anybody guh move,” another added.

Yet another was more concerned about her neighbour than herself, as she explained that the woman had undertaken construction works so that her home could be extended before the Christmas holidays. The woman said that those in authority should hasten the meetings and negotiations before others invest in their home’s infrastructure, only to have it demolished.

Adams said that the sensitisation programme and the process to acquire the lands would only begin after a decision is made on the exact coordinates of where the bridge will land on both sides of the river. So far, the exact coordinates have been plotted for the Houston side, while the ministry is still considering the landing on the Versailles side.

“On the western side, we know we are landing in Versailles. Whether it is 150 meters up or down, that is still being discussed… and that is where we are at trying to find an area with the least social impact and best location, taking into context all things engineering,” he stressed.

“In the construction of a 1.4 kilometre bridge, 100 meters is neither here nor there but we want to get it right in terms of affecting persons the least on the western side. Whether it lands here or there, it doesn’t affect the bridge and orientation. The choice, when you are building, would always be to go through the vacant property—the path of least resistance—and that is the consideration taken. From an engineer’s point of view, that is what we care about because it would mean shorter construction period, less issues in terms of social and environmental impact and that is what the consultant proposed, a purely engineering solution. There is still some [work] to be done because you don’t have a project if you don’t have the land, so there is still negotiation and that sort of thing,” he added, as he pointed to various locations on maps in front of him.

Not for sale
asked if the bridge will be at Versailles on property owned by businessman Stanley Ming—as has been claimed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo—Adams reiterated that a decision has not yet been taken.

“The consideration when you set up the project is not about who owns the land but from an engineering and social point of view what is the best location… you choose a location that gives you the least social disruption,” he said.

“We are looking at what is best. When Versailles was chosen, we did not know Ming had lands there. It was chosen by the consultant who has nothing to gain. This is an independent and reputable consultant that chose a location. The location chosen is here but you have this sawmill, this lumberyard… You have these eight houses plus those property at the back. It is a lot of property to disrupt. Over there [on Ming’s land], you have lots of vacant property but if the approaches go through there, it would give the most awkward landing. The least social disruption will give the most awkward landing… so it is a decision we still have to make. So one gives you less road and a cleaner intersection but has far more acquisition and social impact. We have to weigh the pros and cons,” he added.

Ming has said that the lands he owns at Versailles on the West Bank of Demerara will not be in the pathway for the new bridge and are not for sale.

Jagdeo has alleged that the proposed location for the bridge was engineered so that Ming would benefit from a substantial acquisition payout from government. Jagdeo said that this was because Ming is a supporter of the current APNU+AFC government and former executive in the PNCR, the largest of the parties making up APNU.

The siting of the new bridge between Houston and Versailles was one of three possibilities that had been proposed in 2013 under the then PPP/C government.

“I don’t want to be responding to Jagdeo. That guy is just a reprobate and I don’t want to waste my time and energy responding to him. If you keep replying to Jagdeo, you have to do that every day because every day he comes up with a new story which has no basis in the truth. He could say anything he wants and it don’t bother me,” Ming told this newspaper, when contacted.

“The bad news for Mr Jagdeo et al is… very shortly Mr. Jagdeo is going to find out that Mr. Ming doesn’t want his land to be sold and that the bridge is not passing through his land…It will come out there but I am not the one to put it out,” Ming added.

Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson has also said that a final decision has not yet been taken on the bridge approaches but that Ming was “free to defend himself.”