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EDITORIAL: White Hill – beyond the emotion


EDITORIAL: White Hill – beyond the emotion

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IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS for most Barbadians, we suspect the village of White Hill in St Andrew is insignificant – a story of land slippage that pops up in the news every few months.

If you are a resident of this quaint, serene, little community, however, the plight faced by you and your neighbours is no laughing matter. The level of discomfort, inconvenience, uncertainty, juxtaposed against the possibility that all you own could slide into the gully overnight, cannot make for a happy living.

It is against this backdrop, therefore, that we suggest it is time for the authorities – the Ministry of Housing and Lands, Ministry of Transport and Works (MTW), Ministry of Finance, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who is the minister responsible for town planning – to take fresh guard.

Landslides are nothing new to the residents of White Hill. The shifting soil has been consistently an unwanted part of their lives for the past half century. The number of abandoned houses or remnants of the foundations of those from which occupants have sought refuge elsewhere is ample testimony to this fact.

After the entrance to the village near Hillaby, St Andrew, collapsed in late 2014, we joined the residents in criticising Government when it took a whole year to implement a temporary solution. Then when that temporary road was constructed last December, we complimented Government, and particularly Minister of Transport and Works Michael Lashley, for getting the job done.

Less than five months later, however, that temporary road has all but slipped down the hill, leaving a pathway that is even more difficult for residents to negotiate than it was when it first broke away a year and a half ago. What’s also clear is that the land is still shifting, making quite precarious the land farther uphill which the MTW had identified as a possible location for a permanent solution.

As uncomfortable as it may be for the residents to hear at this time, we do not support the call for the urgent construction of a new road. It is quite clear that any road installed now would be on a literally slippery slope, subject to the same fate as the last one.

The approach of the Government now has to be holistic. The expertise available to the Government has to scientifically come up with an alternative path that does not turn out to be a waste of taxpayers’ money; or a plan for a multimillion-dollar solution that starts with stabilisation of the land way down in the gully, supported by a network of gabions built right back up to the level of the road.

This would have to be on a scale equal to that which was undertaken at Springvale more than a quarter century ago – which is still standing strong. Our reservation, however, would have to be that while Springvale had always been a primary artery into St Andrew, therefore justifying the high expenditure, the White Hill road essentially leads only to White Hill.

Alternatively, the state must come up with a plan for the relocation of the nearly 100 households who still call White Hill home, and then decide if the land can be dedicated to agriculture or some other purpose afterwards. Keeping the community together in some other location would also be in the best interest of the residents and the country.

We readily accept that some residents have an emotional attachment to the district and may not want to move, but if keeping the road open requires unreasonable expense to facilitate a handful of residents, then to rebuild the road would be imprudent.

The current misery of the residents must be eliminated and Government has to take the lead role in any such exercise. But common sense has to prevail, and currently the ever-shifting soil in the area stands as a not-so-subtle warning that as much as we may wish, when Mother Nature does not want to be tamed, our best efforts will not work – unless of course we are prepared to spend an arm and a leg to achieve it.

It’s time to ease up on the emotion and look at White Hill with a heavy dose of practicality.