Residents of Cotton Tree Village, Cayo District, have been eagerly awaiting the results of a project initiated by Belize Water Services Limited (BWS) last October to upgrade the village’s water system and link it, along with nearby St. Matthew’s, to the water treatment plant in the City of Belmopan, about five miles west.

Now, about three months later, they must live with the side effects of the project, which include dug-up streets susceptible to flooding after a rainstorm, and are wondering when and if BWS will restore their streets to their pre-project conditions.

We understand that the project is intended to fulfill a promise by the ruling United Democratic Party government made in the 2010 budget, and residents say they welcome the initiative.

But according to shopkeeper of Cotton Tree, Rosalba Linarez, to whom we spoke today, the muddy, almost inaccessible, roads cause some of her suppliers, such as Bowen and Bowen Limited (bottlers of Coca-Cola and related products), to be unable to enter the village, meaning that she can’t receive her products in a timely fashion, which hurts business.

Village resident Yuri Rivera told us that schoolchildren must wade through the mud to get to school east of their area, one of the newer areas of the village, and often get sent back home to change their clothes.

BWS, she told us, has been simply re-using the material dug up in the course of their pipe installations on the streets.

Longtime village resident Tom Marsden told us that as it stands now, the current rudimentary water system allows certain sections of the village access to water for just one hour of the day; the majority cannot use it at all, he said, and must turn to an almost dry creek in the north side of the village or individual wells for water to wash clothes.

On Sunday afternoon, February 6, area representative Hon. Ramon Witz came to the village, when he was expected to give out land lease certificates to qualified villagers, but he apologized and asked them to wait until Tuesday, as the leases were not ready. He was then addressed by 27-year-old Randy Anderson, who grew up in the village.

Anderson told Hon. Witz, “This is the first time I’m seeing you [here] in the village since you won the election.”

But before he could continue, the area rep brushed him away by saying, “I don’t want to hear nothing,” and according to Anderson, he was taken away by police to the Belmopan station 15 minutes later and held there until 6:00 this morning, when he was released without charges being filed.

According to Anderson, had he been allowed to speak he would have brought up the many problems in the village, including this water situation and the issue of land. He said he has not been able to get a piece of land despite growing up there. Reports to us are that villagers who apply for land are being made to pay a fee of $50 that is additional to the $300 cost for parcel surveys, because they “took too long to pay.”

And in connection with the water system upgrade, area residents told Amandala that they will be made to pay again for connecting to the system and will have to give a deposit, despite a number of them having already had connections through the rudimentary water system.

But first and foremost, their problem currently is the inconvenience of the installations by BWS.

We went to Belmopan and the office of the Reconstruction and Development Corporation (RECONDEV) which Hon. Witz chairs, and sought a meeting with him, but were told that he was in a meeting. Our contact information was recorded and we were promised a callback, but when we checked back this afternoon we were told he was out to lunch.

BWS public relations officer Haydon Brown told Amandala today that the company is working very closely with the village to restore the streets in the village, all dirt roads, back to their pre-project condition, and has asked its Technical Services Manager to look into allegations of inferior material being used to fix the streets affected. He said that while the system uses some of the apparatus from the old system, it has been expanded and is therefore considered “new.”

With regard to how much villagers will pay to connect, Brown said that as part of the company’s “promotion”, only the $50 deposit is due, and the cost for the transfer of services is $20.

BWS expects to complete the flushing and chlorination of the new system for Cotton Tree in two to three weeks; work in St. Matthew’s is expected to take some time longer. Brown says the company expects no additional pressure on the supply from Belmopan, as the entire feed is being expanded to accommodate the new connections.

Amandala