Friday, February 23, 2018

Mooring of boats on to Moruga bridge weakening supports The last ‘spring bridge’ in Trinidad


Under threat: The last suspension bridge in Trinidad. —Photos: Heather-Dawn Herrera

Mark Fraser

The structure of the last functioning ‘spring bridge’ in Trinidad is now under threat of collapse once more, this time via the weakening of the steel on to which boats large and small are being moored.

In 1993 the collapse of rotting planks on the bridge resulted in several families becoming marooned on the eastern side. Fishermen in the area used their pirogues as transportation across the river to assist those affected. New planks were subsequently laid to restore full usage of the bridge by pedestrians and vehicular traffic. The towers and suspension cables remained intact.

This time, the imminent collapse of the bridge a second time is not seen to be caused by non-maintenance or accident but by intentional mooring of boats on to the steel parts of the bridge. Because this area is quite close to the sea, the problem is made worse by the daily rise and ebb of the tides. When the tide is falling, the persistent pull of the ropes against the steel weakens the structure of the bridge.

The St Vincent Ferrer Society attempted to advise fishermen in the area against tying their ropes on to the bridge to secure their boats but they have not complied. Large Guyanese boats as well as small local pirogues still use the bridge for mooring.

Fishermen, most of whom occupy lands around the river complain that they do not have the convenience of a jetty. In fact, they do not have proper facilities for their daily operations.

“The fishing industry is an important part of the economy of Moruga and some of us come from as far away as Cedros to work here where the fishing is good. There is also a thriving fish pot industry. We have families to support and we do the best we can in these uncompromising circumstances.”

The suspension bridge was built by the British over a century ago to assist estates people with the transport of their cocoa produce over the river. Back then cocoa was the main crop of Moruga, with estates stretching extensively over the landscape. The ‘Round the island’ steamer used to stop at the jetty at La Retreite, the then port of call, to off-load supplies and collect the cocoa brought out by the estates people.

At present these estates have been abandoned. There is now just a small mixed plantation of provisions, vegetables and fruits with some rearing of animals.

The suspension bridge is now used for recreational purposes by visitors as well as local families to access the La Retreite beach on the eastern side. This bridge is the last of its kind as its well known counterpart spanning the Marianne River at Blanchisseuse has been replaced by a conventional bridge.

The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago has included the suspension bridge at Moruga on its list of properties to be legally protected. The St Vincent Ferrer Society of Moruga sees this as an important step in the preservation of this important part of history. According to the archives at the Moruga Museum, this was a bustling area in the cocoa days. When the steamer docked, there was much crossing and recrossing of the bridge. This was also a time of great socialising among the people of Moruga.

“It is disturbing to those pursuing the preservation of such sites to witness the gradual disintegration of them. The mooring of the boats on to the bridge amounts to abuse of this important historical site. Fishermen are well aware that the fluctuations of the tides put immense pressure on the steel when the weight of these boats exerts that heavy pull. This bends the steel and so gradually weakens the bridge. We do not want to see another collapse of the bridge.”

“This is an opportune time for the lack of facilities for fishermen in the area to be addressed by those in authority. Moruga is emerging as the mecca of Trinidad for historical, archaeological, cultural and eco-touristic activities. The people of Moruga surely deserve to have basic working facilities to compliment their daily lives.”