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Green Acres residents take dispute with cemetery operators to Vaz

BY KARENA BENNETT
Observer staff reporter
bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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RESIDENTS of Green Acres housing scheme in St Catherine have penned a letter to Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio with responsibility for land and environment, requesting his intervention in a dispute which they say has left them “over the edge in frustration”.

The outcry from the residents comes three months after they were promised a tour by the operators of Meadowrest Memorial Gardens (MMG), who last year submitted an application to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for a 7.3-hectare (19-acre) expansion of the cemetery, which borders their community.

Green Acres, which became a residential community in the 1970s, falls within a one-kilometre radius of Meadowrest. As such, the residents are concerned that the expansion could contaminate its groundwater resource, drive property values down, cause increased flooding, and worsen noise pollution from periodic blasting and the operation of heavy equipment.

“We the residents of the Green Acres Citizens' Association (GACA) write to request your intervention concerning Meadowrest Memorial Gardens' proposed expansion of the existing cemetery.

“Attached is the GACA Review of the MMG Environmental Impact Assessment Report submitted earlier this year, which outlines exactly how the MMG expansion plans will adversely impact storm water drainage and ultimately piped water supply to the community. There is also concern about possible leaching of harmful chemicals from the additional graves in the event of natural disasters such as earthquakes,” said the letter, which was obtained by the Jamaica Observer.

According to citizens' association president Karen Brown, a community consultation was held on October 14, 2018, at which Meadowrest Operations Manager David Parkes committed to touring the community to assess first-hand the impact on the storm water drainage system, as well as the negative impact on residents' property value.

“At that meeting, he agreed to do the tour with the residents. Then one day Mr Parkes calls me out of the blue to say he's just leaving the community. We are very annoyed and we are beyond frustrated,” Brown told the Observer yesterday.

In addition to the request for a walk-through, the residents were of the view that the two parties would have, by now, come to an agreement on the community's request for a 200-foot-long wall with height of at least 12 to 15 feet between the cemetery and the housing scheme.

The citizens' association is also seeking assurance from Meadowrest that bodily fluids from the cemetery will not impact their pumping wells which falls within a 2.5-km radius of the cemetery.

Brown accused Meadowrest of “sidestepping” the community tour, saying that it has further disheartened the residents, since the community was “ignored” for the initial consultation meeting despite sharing boundaries with the burial ground.

“We feel that this is an excuse to go ahead and do the expansion without our input. We believe this is a deliberate thing because if our voices are heard, then that might affect their progress,” she continued.

When the Observer contacted Parkes yesterday, he admitted to not conducting a tour of the Green Acres community with residents but noted that the company has been having internal dialogue and will execute on its promise in short order.

“…but some of the expectations are very overbearing, for want of a better word,” he told the newspaper.

In its request to NEPA last year, Meadowrest reasoned that there is an urgent need for expansion of the cemetery, given the present demand of approximately 2,000 interments annually from Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine, 27 per cent of which are at the cemetery. The remainder are conducted at other cemeteries, including family plots, or cremated.

The company, which reached a record level of burials in 2017, wants to increase the western end of its operation to approximately 19.8 hectares (49 acres) from the existing 12.15 hectares (30 acres), for the construction of an average of 1,000 single vaults and 1,500 double vaults annually.

The burial company also disclosed plans to establish an above-ground columbarium at the property. Development of Meadowrest's site, which also has communities such as Frenchman's Cove, St John's Heights, and Fraser's Content as neighbours, is slated to occur over the next four years, with an estimated lifespan of 43 years.


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