Businesses that have been stationed along a river in Arnos Vale for decades are set to be demolished, possibly as early as today, after having been given seven days notice by the state to vacate the area.
They were informed via a letter from Chief Surveyor Keith Francis, dated September 14, that “the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines will soon start the process of renovating and upgrading the bridge to access the temporary schools and other developments at the decommissioned ET Joshua Airport.”
The letter says that the shops (which are on state land), are given seven days notice from that day to vacate the area and remove their structure.
Measurements have been completed to allow for an evaluation, but the issue of compensation to these persons has yet to go to Cabinet for decision despite the fact that the seven days notice ends today, September 21.
In place for “24 odd years”, Marilyn John of Maro’s Bar does a variety of things to keep her head above water financially. She sells alcohol and cigarettes, and has a liquor license to do such, she says, providing documentary proof of this. She also does barbecue, karaoke, and bingo or whatever other ideas may come to mind.
The mother of four sons and two grandsons, explains that the shop is their daily bread.
“I don’t have a problem with the Government doing they project because the project is a good thing, they building over and making the place look good,” she said, “but then on the other end the government have to think about people like we, poor people who here struggling; this is how we live, this is how we make we daily bread, our livelihood.”
“… It real hard for the Government just come and say seven days notice. What they expect for we break down a structure like this in seven days and to put where…?” she asked.
“…What go become of us? What is my next move? I mean it really stressful and it real hard. I ain’t think they putting the people into consideration…” said John, who disclosed that she turned her life around a long time ago and has been keeping on the straight and narrow.
She has no intention to break down her structure this week.
“…They say in the letter they seeking some sort of compensation, and my problem is that this project the Government would have had in mind for quite a while, they know this coming up, so the same how they preparing for the project, they supposed to have things in place and things in mind for we,” she said.
Her bar is close to a butcher shop which is in alignment with the bridge that is targeted for the Works, and therefore it will be one of the structures that will be moved soon.
“…You don’t have compensation ready for we, for the minute we break,” she commented, so that “…we have something in hand so we could try and make a different turnover.”
She does not feel that the state officials are concerned about them, and noted that the Deputy Prime Minister, Montgomery Daniel, the Chief Surveyor, and the officers from the Traffic Department visited the scene yesterday but did not speak with them at all.
The business owner explained that there was nowhere for her to move to.
John, as well as the other owners of businesses and homes in the area note that they pay taxes; producing a slip which appears to prove that they do.
“I live on this property for over 20/25 years, I pay this revenue tax, 10 dollars a year,” 58-year-old mechanic Clement Cox summarised.
Cox communicated that somehow the whole affair doesn’t feel right.
If he has to move, he noted solemnly “I go get somewhere man. Might be far, but then you know,still have fuh go go live, can’t sleep and eat, you can’t live in the rain.”
Maxford Nickie, who runs an Ital shop reckoned that he has been in Arnos Vale for 20 years, and pays his rent and sends his children to school
on the income from his shop. “I can’t express how it made me feel because I support the current Government, I support them for years. I get beat down here many years because I support this current administration,” Nickie said.
He doesn’t have a problem with moving, he disclosed, but feels that it was “preposterous” to tell them to move in seven days.
Nickie also expressed dissatisfaction that they have to await Cabinet’s decision on the matter of compensation.
In the end, he concluded: “We’re not standing in the way of progress. If we have to move, we have to move. We need adequate time to move, and we need somewhere to relocate.”
The Chief Surveyor was contacted yesterday, September 20, and confirmed that before the schools open in Arnos Vale, “there is a need to upgrade the bridge, and in order to expedite the works several of the shops have to be removed.”
They intend to put three lanes of traffic in this area.
“…The bridge is too narrow to contain two flows of traffic plus pedestrian traffic. So we are going to build a temporary foot pedestrian bridge seaside of the bridge, on the downstream side of the bridge to accommodate the safe flow of children to and from the schools,” Francis stated.
Further, the state claims that there are several “violations” associated with these structures including health.
In terms of the seven day period ending today, the Chief Surveyor outlined, “The decision going forward is that those that need to be moved for the urgent and necessary works to be completed will be moved, and those that can stay for the time period until the space is required, I would say maybe another few weeks, those would remain.”
The approximately four entities abutting the bridge will be the first to be removed.
However, the contract needs to be awarded by Cabinet, and therefore any demolition of the structures may not take place today but late this week or early next week.
The individuals’ status on the property is that of squatters, and Francis indicated that they would need to have been there beyond 30 years so as to extinguish the rights of the state. He also made the point that persons were moved at an early point and they returned, meaning therefore that they would not have been there continuously over the decades.
One of the operators with whom SEARCHLIGHT spoke yesterday, September 20, revealed that she pays water and electricity bills. In order to do this she would need to provide proof of ownership, and so Francis commented that this was of concern to them as well.