’‘We don’t mind moving, but…’

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 MPI Senior Engineer Mr Ronald Roberts explaining the alignment details for the new bridge to Houston residents during a recent engagement with the community ( Photo courtesy of the MPI)

–Houston residents tell MPI during new harbour bridge discussions 

 

HOUSTON residents on Tuesday told Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) officials they’re not at all opposed to moving to accommodate the new Demerara Harbour Bridge.But, there’s a catch. Wherever it is the government has in mind to relocate them, it must be somewhere along the East Bank. It doesn’t matter where, they say.

They made their position known during a meeting with MPI officials on Tuesday to brief them on the proposed project, and to hear what they had to say   According to a release from the MPI, residents told the team that they would prefer to be given land on the East Bank of Demerara if they are to relocate from where they are presently.In turn, the MPI officials informed them that the Ministry of Legal Affairs will be negotiating directly with them on the issue of compensation, while the Lands and Surveys Department will be handling the valuation aspect of the deal, so as to ensure they are adequately reimbursed for giving up their homes.

The residents with which the team met and spoke, the release said, were from four different households. The ministerial team, on the other hand comprised Senior Engineer, Central Transport and Planning, Mr Ronald Roberts; Transport Planning Officer, Ms Ramona Duncan; and Socio-environmental Officer, Ms Shawn-Ann Greene.During the engagement, Greene reportedly explained to the residents that it was their “first grassroots community meeting”,  and that it was an effort by the ministry to foster a transparent process as the project gets underway. **She assured residents that even though the project is in its initial stages, engaging them was always a priority with the ministry.“We want to ensure that you are informed every step of the way,” she said, adding that all of the homesteads that had previously been identified as needing to be relocated might not be affected after all, once the  final design of the bridge is agreed.

According to the release, the proposed alignment for the new bridge and whatever additional project details there were, including findings from the Feasibility Study and Design, were all shared with the residents. They were also told that a more detailed economic, social, and environmental impact assessment will be conducted as the project develops, and that they will take into account many of their concerns.The residents, in turn, told the MPI officials that their main concerns are being evicted from their properties without adequate notice, and not being adequately compensated.

“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 was quoted as saying. In response, the ministry officials emphasised that sufficient notice would be given if the removal of homes becomes necessary. The residents expressed their appreciation for the meeting with the ministry officials and said that the meeting had quelled many of their fears.

Perhaps satisfied with what he was hearing so far, one Houston resident, Mr Rantwi Rupnarain, who has been living there for the past 60 years, was quoted as saying: “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.

” The proposed bridge, which will connect Houston to Versailles on the West Bank of Demerara, will be a medium-level structure   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 kilometres of connecting roads on both the eastern and western banks of the Demerara River, thereby providing a seamless connection to the existing road network. The new bridge is expected to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce travel time and distances, and provide a level of service never before experienced on Guyana’s roadways. Construction is scheduled to commence sometime in 2018.