(JAMAICA GLEANER) — The St James Municipal Corporation is pressing ahead with plans to bulldoze a cemetery along Jimmy Cliff Boulevard in the western resort city of Montego Bay and turn it into a parking lot.
The move is aimed at giving the Hip Strip a new lease on life and increase the capacity to accommodate traffic in the dense St James capital which is host to a plethora of hotels and other tourism business.
“There is inadequate parking out in the hotel area, and from time to time we have obstruction of traffic because of not enough parking, so we think that putting in an additional parking out there will also enhance the whole commercial activities of that area because persons will have more places to park,” said Councillor Homer Davis, mayor of Montego Bay.
THE PARISHES (ABANDONED CEMETERIES) ACT
Davis, who also chairs the St James Municipal Corporation, cited The Parishes (Abandoned Cemeteries) Act as empowering the parish authorities to change the cemetery’s use.
The act states that if burials have been discontinued in the cemetery for a period of 20 years, the municipal corporation should make its intention known by publication for not less than three months and to apply to the minister responsible for local government.
“The law provides for what we are doing. The first step is to move the resolution, which was done. The second step is to get the advertisements going, and the third step is for the minister to give us the bill of health,” Davis said.
“At the end of the three months’ advertisement, then another phase will trip in, and then from there, we will do the environmental impact study,” said Davis.
Proposals to convert cemeteries into commercial or other developments often trigger a hue and cry over public-health concerns, particularly fears that the groundwater might be compromised. Homeowners may also raise alarm over contamination concerns. Cholera victims were among the dead reportedly buried at the Jimmy Cliff Boulevard cemetery.
But the mayor poured water on the prospect that residents and commuters may be outraged.
“Nobody has been buried here for nearly 100 years, and possibly more. It is a process, and the reason why the advertisement is there is for persons to make objections if there is any,” said Davis.
“After we get possession, then we will have to apply to NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) and then wait until their ruling.”
Many of Jamaica’s cemeteries are at full capacity and defunct. A Sunday Gleaner investigation last month revealed that the country has 26 per cent of the designated burial space stipulated by the NEPA. St James has 10 per cent of its ideal burial acreage left – 22.1 acre as compared to the 222.7 acres NEPA’s development manual dictates.