After eight years of having to put up with treacherous road conditions following a major land slippage that threatened their homes and lives, residents of the rural White Hill community in St Andrew are expected to have a new road by the end of this year.
This commitment was given on Saturday night during a town hall meeting, in which residents had the opportunity to have some of their concerns addressed by Parliamentary Representative in the Ministry of Transport and Works and Water Resources Dr Romel Springer, other ministry officials as well as professional engineers and contractors for the project.
Officials gave assurances that the on-again, off-again, multi-million-dollar road project planned for the area was definitely taking place this year with the cleaning for Phase 1 already well underway.
In fact, Springer said Phase 1 – which was started on March 14 and will consist of the construction of a road from the junction in Hillaby into White Hill – should be completed by the end of June and followed by subsequent phases.
“Phase 1 starts from the junction of Hillaby and White Hill and it comes to the newly built area, which refers to the area where we are building a completely new road to realign to the existing road. Phase 2 is divided into two – a part being a resurfacing of the existing road, which is about half of the newly built road and then the steepest area, which is the most difficult part,” he explained.
“So we are going to do that first so that we can open up access to White Hill and then we can continue into Phase 3, which is right down to Baxters,” he said.
This development, which was initially estimated to cost around $8 million, will be carried out by the Chinese firm COMPLANT.
Some 14 families on the eastern side of White Hill, the section of the community that has been more prone to land slippage, are expected to be relocated. In January, three families who were to be relocated since 2009, were finally given keys to their new homes in Farmers, St Thomas.
It was back in November 2014 that the rural community was virtually cut off due to a major landslide that destroyed the main access road. At the time, the then Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration had promised to relocate more than 20 residents and there would be no resettlement in the area.
However, with that not materializing, the current Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration, since coming to office in 2018, has been promising to relocate some residents and fix the road after careful assessment.
Project Manager Thomas Tou told Barbados TODAY the hope was to have the project completed over a nine-month period.
However, Springer said residents should allow some setbacks due to weather conditions, especially during the hurricane season, which runs from June to November each year.
“The rainy season is going to present challenges that we are not able to anticipate right now, but I suspect we are going to have some challenges when the rains come,” said Springer.
During the meeting, Deputy Chief Technical Officer with the Ministry of Transport and Works Philip Tudor promised residents that a rugged temporary road that leads from the Nature Fun Ranch into White Hill would be smoothened while work is being done on the new road.
Residents of White Hill have also been battling water woes, which officials say are now about 80 per cent corrected.
“We are cooking with gas and people are happy and I am happy. The water is not as acute as it was and they had some issues with the bus service and we have also worked on that … so things are getting better every day up here,” said Springer.
Both Springer and spokeswoman for the community Carlitha Andrews told Barbados TODAY that they believed the initially skeptical residents of White Hill were more understanding of, and comfortable with, the plans for the area following the town hall meeting.
Andrews, who was instrumental in getting the meeting so that residents could get a better understanding of the planned project and to voice their concerns, said she would be holding authorities to their promises.
“Based on what I have heard, it is a lot more than what we had to go on before. We are a lot happier coming out of the meeting because the questions that have been asked have been answered. We are now hoping the [plans] will be carried out because projects tend to start and then stop, but I believe that things will progress to the end this time. We are breathing a sigh of relief,” said Andrews, who added that she understood provisions had to be made for bad weather conditions.
“The problem with the bus has been solved. We had water issues and that has improved drastically, I would say about 80 per cent. So, things are looking up, and we are breathing a lot easier than before,” she said.
During the meeting, the dozens of residents urged officials to ensure the community was involved in the project and given employment opportunities where possible. They also called on authorities to ensure that it was not politicised.
In addition, the residents called for more streetlights in the area and improvement in other utility services.