Beetham in a mess – residents in fiery protests over stalled sewer-line repairs

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


Police monitor traffic on the Beetham Highway on Monday morning after residents earlier blocked the roadway with burning debris. – SUREASH CHOLAI

THEIR patience at an end, after waiting since August for the authorities to repair a leaking underground sewer line, Beetham Gardens vented their frustration over the messy situation they have been forced to endure for months, by setting fire to debris along the Beetham Highway during the pre-dawn hours on Monday.However, quick work by the police and firemen led to the the highway being cleared about an hour after the fires were started and early morning traffic resumed unabated while police in vehicles kept a close watch for most of the day to ensure law and order.

Residents told Newsday they were forced into the protest action as they could no longer bear the heavy, nauseating smell of raw faeces which has been their burden ever since the leak was first detected.

No one, they said, from babes in arm to the elderly, have been spared the daily stench while the repairs seemingly stalled over the ensuing weeks and months.

After the fiery protests, WASA (the Water and Sewerage Authority) issued a press release promising repairs would be completed by the end of this month. That was not the first promise WASA had made on the issue.

Contacted for comment, WASA chairman Ravindra Nanga pleaded with residents to be a little more patient. He also apologised to residents for the delay in having the issues resolved.

Raw sewage flows out of a manhole cover on the Main Road in Beetham Gardens on Monday. Photo by Roger Jacob

By 5 pm, WASA crews were seen off-loading concrete cylinders needed for the repair work.

Approximately 11 hours earlier, motorists on the westbound lanes of the highway had to wait in traffic for about an hour while firemen and police cleared the debris placed by the disgruntled Beetham residents. The fires were lit at 5 am.

When Newsday visited the Beetham, residents pointed to sewage water flowing out of several houses and into the drains and road. The stench of faeces was constant.

Nearby, a WASA pump sat in the centre of the road with a thick black hose pumping sewage from a deep sinkhole.

A man was heard telling a small gathering of residents in Phase II that he promised further action if WASA did not get its act together very soon. Several people in the group nodded in agreement. The man said his relatives had to visit the hospital after suffering from nausea and headaches which he claimed were directly caused by the lingering stench.

“Imagine s–t coming up when you go in the bathroom to bathe. When you go outside your home, you seeing s–t floating in the drain. This is what we have had to live through since last year. This was the scene on Christmas Day and into the New Year,” said the man who did not want to give his name.

“It’s since August this thing going on. Beetham has been in a mess since then. When we baked ham for Christmas, we didn’t smell that. You know what we smelled? S–t,” he said.

Another man who admitted to instigating the protest said the residents really meant no harm to the motoring public.

“We just want our voices to be heard. Our children, our elderly just can’t deal with this. People had to leave their homes.

“This isn’t about violence, that’s why when the police came we asked them not to shoot us. We want the problem fixed, we are not going to vandalise or thief…”

A toilet at a home in Beetham after months of sewage backing up into it on Monday. – ROGER JACOB

Resident Olivia Binoe told Newsday she was concerned for the well-being of her 71-year-old mother and one-year-old daughter. An older child was seen trying to focus during online classes while in the nearby bathroom, the toilet remained backed up and unusable.

“We can’t even drink the water in the pipe, it’s the same water in the drains and toilet. We fed-up. No water to wash hands or bathe and this going on for month. It’s bottled water we using and trying to cope with but we not seeing work happening. We don’t know what’s going on,” she cried.

Other residents begged WASA officials to meet with them. They also want the area sanitised in a way that would end the constant stench.

The nightmare began in late August when a small sinkhole, caused by a ruptured sewer line, formed on Main Street.

Newsday first reported on the matter in September after residents threatened to protest as the sinkhole widened and deepened to such as extent that it made the street impassable. The sinkhole, now ten feet wide and about 15 feet deep, became filled as the sewer line continually gushed sewage. The sewage then flowed onto the road and into nearby houses.

On October 15, WASA began work on the leak but workmen realised that what first seemed to be a routine repair turned out to be more complicated.

After 19 days of digging, WASA had pumped out excess sewage and cleared the debris in order to locate the site of the rupture and repair it. By that time the hole had widened to 15 feet and was now 20 feet deep.

A short time later, WASA workmen completed repairs to the line. But in the second week of October, the residents’ sewage woes re-emerged after several awoke to find their homes and yards flooded with smelly greenish-brown water.

WASA returned and in early November, workmen began replacing old pipes in the hope that this would solve the issue. WASA promised the problem would be resolved by December 2.

In late November, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales said rain and loose soil had stalled repairs to the Beetham sewer lines.

Following a visit to the area, Gonzales said major work on sewer lines involving the replacing of old lines and installation of a new pump as well as restoring the roads, would be completed by the end of January.

According to residents, things went quiet on the work site in December.

As time passed residents grew uneasy and uncomfortable.

In an interview with Newsday on Monday, Nanga denied the authority had been inefficient saying, “because of the complexity of the job, it would take time. It’s not simple. It is beyond WASA’s control (and that’s) why it is taking this long.”

Nanga said work should be done within two to three weeks.

Asked about the interim plans to bring some type of ease to the residents until the issue was remedied, Nanga said WASA identified issues with a pump that was actually pushing sewage into houses and through manholes along the street. WASA, he said, was working to address that.

“The problem we encountered was far worse than we thought and we ended up having to restore and replace several pipes and at this stage because of what had to be done, we ordered the equipment needed.

A Beetham resident shows leaking raw sewage in his home on Monday. Photo by Roger Jacob

“They (residents) have to understand that it’s not a simple issue, it’s not a leak that can be attributed to inefficiency. We have been working to get their fix for the past few months…had it been totally within WASA’s control it would have been completed by now.”

In a release, WASA said it was waiting for the arrival of specially-made cylinders to be installed in three manholes. Restoration and remedial work will begin later this week. And the decommissioning of the existing sewer lines will flow.

Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds could not be reached for comment.

(With reporting by Shane Superville)