Public Works Minister Colonel David Burch has disclosed that the Department of Parks team responsible for trimming back the overgrowth along public roads is “under-strength” by 30 people.
He was responding to questions by Progressive Labour Party (PLP) MP Lawrence Scott, who wanted to clarify that there has been no roadside weed spraying since 2015, due to the ban on herbicides containing Glyphosate.
In a report on “the overgrowth of vegetation on our roadside verges and highways, Col Burch said it “has caused the greatest concern recently” and it has been “the source of at least 70 emails a week” to his inbox.
Asked by Mr Scott if the current state of the Parks Department forms the basis for “privatisation”, the Minister replied: “It would seem to be on the path of privatisation by stealth.
He was also quick to point out from the outset “that not all roadside overgrowth is the responsibility of Government to manage”.
“Private landowners have an obligation to maintain their frontages to ensure that any vegetation that abuts, or encroaches upon a highway is not a hazard to any user of that highway,” he said.
“Any vegetation that is within six (6) feet of the edge of a highway needs to be regularly maintained to prevent it becoming a hazard to pedestrians and the motoring public.”
But another major contributing factor, or a root cause “has been the banning of the use of herbicide” that contains Glyphosate. Prohibiting the importation of it also “meant that when the Highways section ran out of supplies there was no readily available alternative substance that could be used”.
“This has meant since 2015 – or in other words two (2) years that no weed spraying has been carried out on the roadways and verges. As weed spraying is the first action to help prevent seeds germinating and growing – it should come as no surprise to anyone why the country looks the way it does,” said Col Burch.
He noted that his Ministry will be granted a license “to import restricted concentrated forms of glyphosate herbicide with the condition that an Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) plan is completed prior to the issuing of that license”. Ultimately, he said using “an integrated” pest control plan “that strategically utilizes mechanical, chemical, cultural and biological methods”, “minimizes” the “negative impact to human health and the environment”. “There are also potentially significant cost savings to be had by implementing an IVM programme.
“Considerable research and monitoring has occurred both locally and internationally to support the use of Glyphosate Herbicide with certain conditions and monitoring and those conditions will be met,” he added.
The Minister also disclosed that “the team responsible for road sweeping and vegetation cutting in the Highways Section has been limited by a lack of resources”, that was also cut short of at least 30 workers. “This includes both labour and equipment resources,” he said.
Historically, he noted that three teams covered the workload required islandwide. “With retirements and natural attrition the teams are now eight labourers short which has meant that at times teams have had to double up to make a viable work crew. This has slowed progress on keeping the roads clear,” said Col Burch.
“Even with a full complement of personnel it is unlikely that a particular section of road will be attended to more than twice a year. Four vacant budgeted positions are available for the current budget and recruiting to fill these posts is currently underway,” he added.
“To be clear – this a sharp departure from the practice of the last four-and-a-half years when many posts went unfilled, loss of productivity from labour shortages has also been exacerbated by a shortage of trucks.
The Minister continued: “The Ministry has suffered from not being able to replace trucks when they have reached the end of their road worthiness. This has led to more frequent breakdowns and down times for the vehicles. This has affected both the mechanical sweeper brushes and trucks used by the crews to collect and transport vegetation to Marsh Folly. This also has had an effect on the productivity. Typically the crews have operated with half the number of trucks required and at times only one truck between all three crews.
“Often there has been no mechanical road sweeper in operation. The mechanical sweeper brush is important to quickly remove dust and sand from the road surface to make it safer and also to help prevent vegetation from establishing itself on the road edge.
“There is the added knock on effect on flooding when it rains as the lack of removal of soil, debris and weeds causes drains to become clogged and lead to flooding. With the road sweeping and vegetation cutting crew being challenged to get around the areas that they are obligated to do the situation has been made worse by the lack of diligence by certain landowners to do their part.”
As first reported by Bermuda Real, he said: “The Ministry will make a more concerted effort in chasing those landowners who are delinquent in maintaining the frontages of their properties and will apply the appropriate penalties in accordance with the Public Lands Act.
“Landowners are reminded that vegetation should be cut back at least six feet beyond the edge of the carriageway. The Ministry has also recently acquired a hedge cutting machine which
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