Govt officials meet with Houston residents over possible land acquisitions

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Officials from the Ministry of Public Infrastructure yesterday (October 10, 2017) met with residents of Houston, East Bank Demerara to provide information on possible land acquisition as the upcoming New Demerara River Bridge project picks up steam.

Residents from four different households turned out to meet with the officials, which included Senior Engineer (Central Transport and Planning), Ronald Roberts; Transport Planning Officer (Economist), Ms Ramona Duncan; and Socio-environmental Officer, Shawn-Ann Greene.

Senior Engineer, Ronald Roberts, of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure explains alignment details for the New Demerara River Bridge to residents of Houston, East Bank Demerara during a recent engagement within the community

During the engagement, Ms Greene explained that the “first grassroots community meeting” was an effort by the Ministry to foster a transparent process as the project gets underway. Even though the project is in its initial stages, Greene emphasised that community engagement from the get-go was a necessity.

“We want to ensure that you are informed every step of the way,” Greene said.  She added that all of the previously identified homes might not be affected upon the determination of the final design of the bridge. Nonetheless, all of the residents will be privy to the necessary information.

According to a release from the Public Infrastructure Ministry, the proposed alignment for the new bridge and additional project details, including findings from the Feasibility Study and Design, were also shared with the residents. “The residents were informed that more detailed economic, social, and environmental impact assessments will be conducted when the project moves beyond its preliminary stages and these assessments will take into account many of the residents’ concerns.”

According to the residents, their main concerns were being evicted from their properties without adequate notice and not being adequately compensated. The residents also shared that while they had no issues with relocation, they would prefer new homes on the East Bank of Demerara or somewhere close by.

“We’ve established lives for ourselves in this area; we’re accustomed to this life and we want to continue those lives as best as possible,” one resident explained.

In turn, the Ministry officials emphasised that sufficient notice would be given if the removal of homes becomes necessary. Furthermore, the officials shared that the Ministry of Legal Affairs would be negotiating directly with the residents on compensation while the Lands and Surveys Department will be conducting the valuation process to ensure that residents are correctly reimbursed for their homes.

The residents expressed their appreciation for the meeting with the Ministry officials and said that the meeting quelled much of their fears.

“Today’s meeting was very informative and I appreciate the Ministry coming and making us aware of what’s going on cause all the time we didn’t know anything about what was going on. Now that they’ve come we feel a bit more comfortable with the process and whatever has to come in the future, we will try to cooperate with whatever has to be done,” Rantwi Rupnarain, a Houston resident for 60 years, said.

An artist’s impression of what the new Demerara River bridge will look like

Government’s move to meet with the residents came after initial concerns were raised by them about being in the dark over the Public Infrastructure Ministry’s plans regarding the removal of several homes to facilitate construction of the crossing.

The new Demerara River Bridge, which will connect Houston on the East Bank and Versailles on the West Bank, will be a medium level bridge with three vehicular lanes and a central movable part in the form of a lift span to allow for the passage of ocean-going vessels.

The project will also include the construction of two fly-over bridges and 11 km of connecting roads on the eastern and western banks of the Demerara River, providing seamless connection to the existing road network.

The construction of the new bridge however, has come under intense scrutiny by the political Opposition, who, among other highlighted concerns, lodged a formal complaint with the the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), calling for an investigation into the selection and award of a $146 million contract to Dutch firm, LievenseCSO, for the feasibility study of the new Demerara River Crossing/Bridge.

It was later confirmed by the Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson that the contract was sole-sourced in favour of LievenseCSO, which he said was recommended after the original tenders were annulled.

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