Land dispute blocks agricultural station

POSTED: 03/6/13 11:49 AM

St. Maarten – St. Peters resident Rodrick Fleming has dreams of establishing an agricultural station for the nation in the hills of his community. His foundation, Kwanzaa Garden, has for the past decade been steadily advancing cultivation initiatives along 8334 square meters of leased government property on Coco Plum Road. Although Fleming applied for the land in 1992 and got approval in 1993, he has been locked in a controversial land dispute, the likes of which are colored with allegations of arson and political manipulation.

When Today visited the property that is located near the UTS Co-Location and Transmitter Site two sets of demarcation could be seen. One that Fleming himself had put up, chain link fencing, and green iron staves on the outskirts of his property that he says were erected by Cleophas Richardson.  The staves are six feet away from the road.

Fleming showed Today court documents to validate his claims that he had taken Richardson to court in September 2009 because Richardson was also claiming ownership of the property and impeded Fleming by cultivating on the land by placing goats and cattle there. Judge D.M Thierry granted a verdict in Fleming’s favor on May 17, 2011. Richardson was also ordered to pay damages to the amount of $12, 813.32. Instead of complying with verdict, public records show that Richardson filed an appeal which was thrown out and still has not paid any money to Fleming. Yesterday, the father of three said that after following the legal course of the law he is becoming frustrated.

“When I got the land this guy came to me and say that he and his father was occupying and that he was supposed to get a piece of the land. So I went to the courts because he was blocking me from getting to the land. To my short surprise Mr. Richardson continues putting his cows in the place even though he lost the court case. The judge ordered him to immediately be off the property and he is still continuing. He is also illegally fencing next to me. For the last month or so, I went back to my lawyer and he advised me that I am the sole owner of the property, I have my documents. He went back and appealed the case but he lost the appeal and now actually he is still busy on the property. This is provocation; he is fencing right outside of me and busy cutting down trees that is not allowed. The trees are there to protect the land. All of my fencing poles he took and used to erect another fence,” Fleming told Today. He had gotten the poles from the airport as part of construction waste.

Fleming said that he spoke with the Minister of Vromi, William Marlin and his advisor Kendall Dupersoy but is yet to see any action taken on his behalf. No inspectors from the Ministry of Vromi have visited the area either to regulate development in the hill either, he claims. A functioning Inspectorate could have placed the situation under control a long time ago.

“I am being provoked and harassed every single day, I can’t get any rest with this man. I am tired of making complaints to government. I need clarity from government as to exactly what is going on. This is happening because of family ties. This man is Hyacinth Richardson brother and he should know better being a former public works employee himself. This is an illegal activity occurring here and it needs to be exposed. He has no occupational rights,” the airport employee said.

Affectionately known as Blacks, Fleming lives on Genip Road and when not working on the airport, all of his time his spent on developing the property in the hills. He told us of his vision for Kwanzaa Gardens.

“Over 170 grafted plants are supposed to come from St. Lucia and another 100 from Mr. Bailey on the French side. My vision is to see that this property goes towards what it was really given out for; agriculture. We also want to see that every class from every school comes at least once a week, walking up the hill to sow seeds, learning grafting, carpentry and a little bit of everything. Children need exercise, open air and open space. I have fought hard to preserve this piece of property for the children, not myself. We will make some benches and set it out like a park. We will also set aside some land for animal husbandry and a butchering stall for fresh meat.  Everything will have to be done professionally and correctly, which means that some guys will have to go and get an agricultural degree.”

He is currently pursuing his agricultural degree and regularly collaborates with St. Kitts and Nevis that provides invaluable expertise.

The property already has a reservoir, several fruit trees and once contained a shack. Fleming showed this newspaper, the rubble of his burnt down farmer’s shack on the property. He suspects that it was the work of an arsonist and filed a report with the police.

“It was burnt flat almost to the ground, I have no problem with anyone, only one dispute I have and it is over the land,” Fleming said with conviction. In 2003 he also made reports to the Public Prosecutors Office alleging threats to his person and theft of fencing supplies from his property.

Annually, he pays a fee of 2334 guilders a year for the lease of the land and wonders why he would be have to battle for a piece of property .

“One family cannot own so much land, when people are still looking for housing.”

The Kwanzaa Garden foundation is currently trying to source funding, Fleming revealed, because a significant amount of its finances was swallowed up in legal fees.

“I don’t want any problems with anyone. I am trying to allow the law to prevail. For 10 years we have been kept back fighting with this man. This property belongs to no one person but government and the government granted me the lease, I have the documentation to prove it.  St. Maarten needs an agricultural station and whoever does it first does not matter, it is the initiative that counts,” Fleming said.

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