Why Antrim road is slipping (Part 2)

Traffic is held up at Antrim while workers spread more tarrish on the slipping road.

Article Link: Why Antrim road is slipping part 1

The errors of past road building survive to haunt us today. Henry Hesketh Joudou Bell, British Administrator of Dominica (1899-1906), used a grant from the British government to construct a road up the Antrim Valley which he called the ‘Imperial Road’ and which is still important today.

The administrator before him had planned to use the grant to cut a road inland from Layou across the island down the Melville Hall valley to the north coast. Bell had other ideas. He directed that a road be cut from Canefield up through Roger to Sylvania (where his boss in England allowed him to buy an estate). The road would go as far as Bassinwill (now Bells) and then turn down over the ‘Layou Flats’ through Carlholm to the west coast. This was aimed at opening up land to British investors and was one of Dominica’s many ‘schemes and dreams’ which have failed miserably before and since.

At that time, only a bridle track fit for horses and mules went up the Antrim Valley. Bell was going to turn this into his ‘Imperial Road’ fit for wheeled traffic (although there was as yet no motor vehicles in Dominica). But one has to think of the future so his engineer, William Miller, began his zig-zag road into the hills from Canefield.

The reason this road has so many hairpin bends is that in those days even the first gear of the early vehicles was rather weak. So that to get a gentle gradient the road had to make many bends to maintain a gentle slope. Remember too that there was no heavy earth moving equipment. This road was built by basic manpower using pick-axes, shovels and wheelbarrows. And here we are still using this exact route in the 21st century!

When they reached Antrim, they faced a challenge: The old French 18th century bridle path did not go where the road goes today. It avoided the sliding cliff and went down into the valley, around the old Antrim estate house (that is still there abandoned). It zig-zagged into the river and up the other side of the valley past Springfield and through L’imprevue estate, which is located on a flat above Springfield, and approached Sylvania from another angle. If you go into the bush you can still see the old stone ‘pavé’ road behind Antrim house going down to the river.

The Imperial Road passes on the left-hand side of this diagram showing Morne Trois Pitons inside an older wider crater, appearing in ‘Volcanic Hazard Atlas of the Lesser Antilles’, UWI Seismic Research Unit.But engineer Miller was not going that way. He had to make a bridge higher up so that his future motor cars could cross the river. To do this he decided to dig through the sliding cliff and up along the side of the steep valley. There he built a 30ft long steel bridge to cross the river. We still cross its concrete replacement today.

When Miller reached Springfield, he wanted to make another change. Instead of going up through L’Imprevue he wanted to go along the steep valley side through Red Gully and so get to Sylvania. It would be easier for the workers who could then just toss the earth over the side of the cliff into the river below. He said the gradient would be gentler. So, Bell gave him permission.

When the road was being redone in the early 2000s I appealed to one of the lead engineers to consider going the other way and avoid the cliff and Red Gully and save on concrete retaining walls etc. But I was politely ignored. So, to avoid clogging up the DOWASCO intake and giving Roseau people red water, tons of Red Gully clay were trucked down the road at great expense and was dumped on the sliding old lake bed at Antrim. From that time the sliding cliff became worse.

But this was not the first time: A report appearing in the ‘Voice of Dominica’ Wednesday 14 April 1915 stated: ‘Four labourers working on the right side of the road through Antrim Estate were killed when the cliff collapsed on 7 April 1915. They had sought shelter from the rain.’

The following year in his report on the 1916 hurricane, Miller’s successor, P. Noble, wrote that the road was closed for a week ‘owing to the hillside at Antrim Valley Estate slipping bodily down (this cannot be termed a landslide… but I would rather attribute it to an earth tremour)’. It has never been a stable area.

The Imperial Road passes on the left-hand side of this diagram showing Morne Trois Pitons inside an older wider crater, appearing in ‘Volcanic Hazard Atlas of the Lesser Antilles’, UWI Seismic Research Unit.

Sources: Colonial Report No.23 Dominica, Road and Land Settlement: Report on the expenditure of the Parliamentary Grant in Aid, September, 1903. HMSO.

Dominica Voice Newspaper, 14 April 1915.

Report on damage caused by storm of 28th August, 1916, with an estimate for repairs: P. Noble, Colonial Engineer. Dominica.


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  1. roselyn
    May 24, 2018

    the so called engineers in Dominica keep building and fixing roads that are right next to the cliff side so what should we expect with so much rainfall that our country experience so frequently.in this day and age there is so much heavy machinery that can cut through mountains etc. so much millions that has been flying around lately i think the government can at least invest in proper roads for our country. fixing a road on the edge now and have it slide off in 5 years is like not fixing it at all,what the use?honestly people just look at our roads, they are built around the mountains which means that the road lies between the mountain and on the other side a valley/precipice. recently there was an accident in belles where an HRV landed in the river,why was that?because the road is at the edge of the river,not too long there was one in dubique,why was that?the road runs at the edge close to the sea. i’m so sure the engineers can find ways to make roads pass further inland to avoid…

  2. Frank Talker
    May 23, 2018

    Skerrit don’t take anybody’s advice. He will drown in his own pride.

  3. LifeandDeath
    May 23, 2018

    Thank you Mr. Honychurch for more insight…Now where is the suggestions for solving the problem at Antrim?

  4. josette esprit
    May 22, 2018

    Goverment is to purchased land above road make a back wall with concrete and wire basket and proper drainage and then fix road that tarrish to heavy

  5. Crap O'Hall
    May 22, 2018

    This has been my contention for a number of years now. We need constructive discourse between informed and knowledgeable individuals in order to move the nation forward. This mentally that I am in charge and will do as I please have not served Dominica well. We have individuals in all areas of discipline capable of making those decision that will right the wrongs of the past, and contribute to a better future. Political affiliation should not be the determining factor in the decision making process. Dominica is doomed if we continue on this path.

  6. Danziger
    May 22, 2018

    Lennie merci, merci, merci beacoup for the information.

  7. Pas toutes D/cien aveg
    May 22, 2018

    LH , My brother once told me this story: He has many a joke on D/can history like you.We did chat lot in Antrim When The Blaize family lived and worked there.
    Enough on the deviation- A british farmer had a pet snake which escaped so he went looking 4it with a tractor so , that’s why we have so many zig zag roads

  8. Rassheed
    May 22, 2018

    Antrim land must be a dollar an acre.

    • Pas toutes D/cien aveg
      May 22, 2018

      No wonder Tim, Skerrit etc( Skerrit’s gran Pa Money god never saw it fit o buy) have not purchased the estate ur dad had and huffed the plantation house that’s for sale US$ 375K with option to buy furniture. lol

  9. Quantico
    May 22, 2018

    Very interesting and informative Doctor the honourable and National Hero Lennox Honeychurch. Dominica has so much History to read about it isn’t funny, most of us don’t have a clue about the past in our Country, I need to find these books because I wish all these were taught in school, so much History to know about that is not funny.
    I note the Doc’s comment on about being politely ignored and that is exactly what Shaka Zulu was saying at the top here about having all ideas contending because it is not easy to do these projects in Dominica. I take for instance the two companies of 1982/3 Sintra Inc. and Janine’s Construction for their well built Road and Jetty in the North of the Island respectively. As a young individual going to High School I was so impressed with what I saw with these engineers from Canada that up to this day 36 years later the road is still holding up, though many Earthquakes, Hurricane and Rain has been pounding these projects they continue to hold up…

  10. Shaka Zulu
    May 22, 2018

    Thank you for putting references. In my comments on last piece i put a link which had the geologic map of Dominica and this very same cross section. My comments were made to stimulate thought and not to offend. I also said the historical perspective is commendable. I was able to locate antrim on the geologic map by reading your piece. According to the map the road is near a graben which is essentially a depressied block of earth crust bordered by parralel faults. The block movement is dipicted by the arrows. You make mention of Antrim river. This slipping by recent history has been going on for a long time. Geologically as long after that caldera (A large volcanic crater, typically one formed by a major eruption leading to the collapse of the mouth of a volcano) was formed. The fault coupled with river is a recipe for unstable conditions. If that is the case there is no easy fix. Engineers will need a comprehensive geotechnical and borring survey on the area to determine

    • Shaka Zulu
      May 22, 2018

      best engineering controls. I suspect non of that was done in historical engineering and based on what i read it seems like the roads were constructed mainly with river and topography in mind and some politics and not geodynamics of the area. Over the years the size and volumes of transportation on the road have increased and that may play significant role in vibration and further instability in area. What i take from this is the need for a state Geologist, state engineer, state historian, state biologist,/marine biologist etc .. In Dominica. There needs to be a collective knowledge based approach to development not the same ole individualistic mentality where individuals are all about taking credit for themselves. What we get is a half ****** job that 150 years later we cannot fix. I suggest doing a complete geotechnical survey at the area, limiting size and weight of vehicles, or finding alternative route away from the fault zone cause no amount of engineering can stop that.

  11. Not A Herd Follower
    May 22, 2018

    In an era of increased intensity and frequency of storms and recent earthquakes, Dominica is more vulnerable. Hence, we need new leadership in engineering in Dominica imbued with knowledge of the new technologies, trained in urban and regional planning and environmental management and open to flexibility and to other ideas and sensitive to the importance of local knowledge.

  12. Not A Herd Follower
    May 22, 2018

    We need to get engineers with greater foresight and willingness to listen to others. Those we currently have in the public service think they know it all. They are not innovative and appear to be stuck with the same approaches time and time again, refusing to explore other more sustainable options.

  13. jungle
    May 22, 2018

    We’ll be back to the donkey and mule track by the time this government is gone.

  14. CIA Agent
    May 22, 2018

    Thanks Dr. Honychurch. I appreciate the references which will hopefully dispel notions of your critics.
    Now we know the problem, let’s consider possible solutions before pouring more money into the pit (yes, pun intended)
    I sincerely hope this will stimulate panel discussions with the government to which you would be invited.
    Hope there is a part 3 to this Antrim saga.

  15. Roger Burnett
    May 22, 2018

    The photograph that illustrates this article says it all: adding more and more weight at the very point where weight should be taken off!

    Since the placement of spoil from Red Gully a 4 foot depth of tarrish has been added to that stretch of road. To that you can add the flawed concept of placing concrete slabs over the fault line.

    When will we learn!

    • Shaka Zulu
      May 22, 2018

      Burnett based on that diagram i don’t think putting or removing load on the slopes will make much difference unless you tallking about millions of tonnes. I think movement of the fault is more cotrolled by the location of Dominica on the convergent plate boundary and the movements of the plates underneath than the weights of soil placed on the area. There are some faults tbat are affected by sediment load but this may not be one of them. Part of the analysis in understanding the geologic features in the area (caldera, graben, convergent plate boundary etc…) There dynamics as it relates to engineering and construction and finding the best possible solution. Now there is this little fellow called cost and people sometimes take tbe cheapest route either by choice or circumstances.

      • Roger Burnett
        May 22, 2018

        There was no slippage between the road and the river before the placement of thousands of tons of spoil from Red Gully.

        To the best of my knowledge all consultants, since the placement of the spoil, have recommended taking weight off, rather than putting weight on.

        Feel free to visit me when you next pass through Antrim. I live on the land in question. You will then gain firsthand practical knowledge of the situation.

  16. May 22, 2018

    And today we have ask Skerrit for everything :-D :-D :-D

  17. Concerned
    May 22, 2018

    Very interesting and informative.

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