By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
MEMBERS of the Potter’s Cay Fish, Fruit and Vegetable Vendors Association yesterday staged an angry protest, hoping to thwart attempts by the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resource to move a number of stalls from the site as a part of the multi-million dollar Potter’s Cay Dock redevelopment project.
Nearly 30 vendors demonstrated in the area yesterday, waving placards and voicing their displeasure with the way the ministry has handled the matter.
In a statement sent to The Tribune, members said they were being forced to evacuate the site where many of them have worked for decades.
The group stated that ministry officials are uprooting scores of vendors without presenting compensatory arrangements; an issue that the association said would push some 71 vendors into unemployment.
“Potter’s Cay is a generational venue (that is) comprised of marine vendors, produce vendors, mobile stands and crabbers. (Vendors) who without ceasing, night and day, rain or shine, have been the backbones of this micro-business environment,” the statement read.
“We the members of the Potter’s Cay Fish, Fruit and Vegetables Vendors Association are calling on you, the elected representatives, many of you to whose constituencies our vendors belong.”
The association said two vendors were notified on February 6 at 3pm that they had to attend a mandatory meeting at 4pm.
It was reportedly at that meeting that the two vendors were told they would have to vacate the area by February 13 - last Friday, which was one week’s notice.
The association said it requested that the vendors be given a week’s extension - to February 20. The association said it insisted the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources use that time to come up with a plan to adequately relocate the vendors.
“How would these persons now pay NIB, NHI, VAT, BEC, Water and Sewerage, school fees, mortgage and rent to name a few? Our vendors have prided themselves (on) being independent, civil, business minded and responsible citizens of our country,” the statement added.
“It has brought despair, hopelessness and disappointment to our vendors and their families who depend daily on the income provided from these stalls.”
Last November, the government announced a three-phased redevelopment plan for Potter’s Cay Dock, a joint effort between the Ministries of Works; Agriculture and Marine Resources and Transport and Aviation.
Phases one and two are now underway. The phases are being carried out simultaneously and are expected to be completed in May.
The first two phases call for the removal and relocation of trees on the southern foreshore to create a parking area, which would extend eastward to Williams Street, the extension of the Fish and Farm store by 150 feet to accommodate mail boat services and a new bathroom area with a security presence.
Additionally, phase two is expected to see the development of security checkpoints at the entrance and exit of the entire facility and kerbs erected around the perimeter of the dock as a safety measure to prevent potential accidents.
In January, officials from the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation presented the details of their operations at the site, however, noticeably absent from these discussions were representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources.
That month, a source within the Port Department expressed concern with the lack of action on the part of the Department of Agriculture, admitting that there is some frustration with the lack of clear directives on what it intends to do with the stalls and vendors at Potter’s Cay.
Additionally, vendors also expressed concern over what would happen to them amidst redevelopment efforts.
One long-time vendor said while the efforts of the Port Department are commendable, there remains uncertainty over how this would affect vendors.
To date the Department of Agriculture has not made public its plans for Potter’s Cay Dock.
There have been calls in recent months for more than 25 stalls that operate on a day-to-day basis at the site to be updated to mirror other development efforts currently underway at the East Bay Street social hub.
Attempts to contact Minister of Agriculture V Alfred Gray were unsuccessful, but employees in his office indicated that he would not comment on the matter until he had “looked at all the elements connected with the project”.