Legal action looms
HMC threatens to take squatters in Hopewell Cemetery to court, wants more space amid rising COVID-19 deathsThursday, September 16, 2021
BY ANTHONY LEWIS
HOPEWELL, Hanover - Faced with a chronic shortage of burial space in the Hopewell Cemetery, chairman of the Hanover Municipal Corporal (HMC), Sheridan Samuels, has warned that the local authority will be heading to court in an effort to rid the burial ground of squatters, who continue to occupy the property despite being served notices.
Samuels, who is also Lucea mayor, told the Jamaica Observer West that the notices were served on the illegal occupants for them to vacate the property more than a year ago.
“The enforcement team went there and served notices on them. So it is just for us to go through the regular routine of taking them to [the] court and then we get permission from the court to demolish [houses] and all those things,” he stated.
Samuels further argued that, while it is “the right of the corporation” to go ahead and demolish the houses as there is no agreement in place between the corporation and the occupants, “it is not politically correct to go out there and do that”.
A section of the cemetery is located on lands donated by a citizen to the people of Hopewell through the citizens' association and is under the care of the Hanover Municipal Corporation.
Another portion of the burial ground was purchased by the corporation from the Public Works Department (PWD) in conjunction with the National Land Agency (NLA) several years ago.
The issue surrounding the cemetery was brought to the fore during last Thursday's regular monthly general meeting of the Hanover Municipal Corporation, where it was disclosed that the informal settlers are occupying a section of the cemetery, as stakeholders express concern that the cemetery is fast running out of burial space.
President of the Hanover Parish Development Committee (HPDC) Petra Vernon-Foster, in her presentation at the meeting, expressed concern that burials from the nearby community of Sandy Bay are being allowed in the Hopewell Cemetery, which is running out of space.
The Sandy Bay Cemetery was closed in June 2010 after it had reached its capacity.
“I believe that it is time for the municipal corporation to find a cemetery for Sandy Bay so that Sandy Bay can have their own cemetery. At present, the Hopewell Cemetery will soon reach its capacity. So what is going to happen to the citizens of Sandy Bay and Hopewell when the Hopewell Cemetery is filled?” queried Vernon-Foster.
While efforts are being made to find a suitable location to establish a new cemetery for Sandy Bay, the situation in Hopewell is chronic and has resulted in the corporation exploring the possibility of purchasing additional land space adjoining the cemetery.
And, while the PDC president was preoccupied with the issue of limited burial space at the Hopewell Cemetery, Samuels queried if the president was only concerned about people from other communities utilising the cemetery and not also about the informal settlers occupying a section of the burial ground.
“There are bigger concerns you know, because you have a lot of squatters on the [Hopewell] cemetery land and I didn't hear you mention that you are not satisfied with that, but you are [not] satisfied with the dead that has been laid to rest in Hopewell [Cemetery] because they are from a different community, don't it?” queried Mayor Samuels.
The PDC chair replied that her concern has to do with both communities not having a place to bury the dead, soon.
Samuels later explained to the Observer West that the Hopewell Cemetery is being occupied by squatters at a time when the HMC is being forced to find additional space for burial, due to a surge in deaths from COVID-19.
“We have the property for the cemetery that could have been used to bury more people, but it has been captured by persons who have built houses on it, and as a result of that we can't get the space to take the volume of deaths that we are receiving now due to COVID,” Mayor Samuels argued.
However, councillor for the Hopewell Division, Devon Brown, told the Observer West that, before the parcel of land that was purchased from the then Public Works Department (PWD) was acquired by the corporation, portions of it were occupied by informal settlers.
“Some sections can convene burials and some sections are rocky and would not be conducive to burial. But, even before purchasing, persons were squatting on the land and the corporation is yet to regularise those informal settlements,” disclosed Councillor Brown.
When the Observer West visited the area on Friday and again on Monday, our news team observed several concrete structures on the property. Additionally, several other houses were under construction.
One occupier of the property, Claudette Williams, told the Observer West that she is willing to purchase the section of the land that she occupies.
Williams is among the more than 10 families who have been accused of squatting on the cemetery lands.
According to Williams, in 2013 she moved on the property and started the construction of a board house. She said during construction she was warned that she was constructing on Government lands and was given notice to stop.
Other dwellers, she said, were reportedly served notices. The mother of six noted that since that time she has been trying without success to purchase the section of the land that she occupies.
“So it is not like I have been sitting down hoping to just stay there. I would rather know that I get the land to buy, because I can't pass on whatever mi have to my kids unless it is sorted out,” expressed Williams.
“I am hoping that with all the letters I have written and the attempts made to purchase the land, I am hoping that the issue will be resolved amicably.”
She further argued that, of the approximately 10 houses erected on the grounds of the cemetery, some of them are constructed on “rocky land” which is not suitable for burials.
“Digging the foundation cannot be done without a jack hammer. You can't dig a pit without a jack hammer… so it will be difficult to dig graves in that area,” Williams argued.
Both Williams and Brown were unable to say if anyone living on the burial ground had been served notices in recent months.