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Voice of the people

Here we go again! That was probably the first exclamation of residents of Arch Hall, Bennetts, Sandy Lane and surrounding districts when a section of the Mangrove Pond landfill in St. Thomas burst into flames again last night.

Luckily, the fire on an apparently small and more recently created tyre disposal site was not nearly as large as that which occurred last May, putting fire, sanitation and environmental health officials to the test.

However, while it was clear that for much of last night the winds kept the smoke from the billowing flames high above the homes of persons living immediately down wind of the landfill, this was not the case this morning, when even motorists driving by on the Ronald Mapp Highway had no choice but to close their windows.

For residents that would hardly have been an option.

It would be unreasonable of anyone to accuse the Sanitation Service Authority, the Ministry of the Environment or the Government generally, of causing the fire at the landfill, but knowing that none of these entities was responsible would be little comfort to the suffering residents.

Spontaneous fires, we are told, are always a possibility at even the best managed landfills, given the type and volume of gases that can build up below the surface when garbage breaks down. And given the fact that the fire occurred on a section of Mangrove Pond that would have been closed and capped (except for the storage of tyres) well over a decade ago, the build up of methane gas could have been considerable.

Just a few weeks ago Prime Minister Freundel Stuart opened the newest section of the Mangrove Pond disposal site, Cell Four, which we are told will be able to take the country’s household waste well into the next decade. What this means, in theory at least, is that residents of Arch Hall, Bennetts and surrounding areas will not only have to live with the possibility of being disrupted by such occurrences on the many acres of already capped disposal cells, but on the sprawling new section as well.

After spending so many millions on preparation, we don’t expect Government to close Mangrove now, but the fire ought to re-open discussion on whether a central location with so many homes and businesses located down wind should be used for such a purpose.

We continue to employ antiquated planning mechanisms where persons likely to be impacted negatively by the development decisions of technocrats and politicians have very little influence over, or input into, the process. Yes, Mangrove Pond would have been zoned long ago for garbage disposal, but when it involves multi million dollar expansion that would extend its life by as much as two decades, shouldn’t the discussion be re-opened?

This is not a Barbados Labour Party or Democratic Labour Party issue as we anticipate some will be quick to suggest, but a matter of governance. Years ago when a previous government was looking for a new site for a sanitary landfill, before the decision makers settled on the ill-fated Greenland location, one of the options mentioned was a western corner of St. Lucy for a facility that would have included incineration.

There was then tremendous alarm about the impact of ash on the ocean, on fish, reefs etc — and rightly so. But we have had no discussion on the impact of these fires, the never dying landfill odour etc on residents. There is nothing hypothetical or academic about this — it is real and it affects real people.

But we don’t hold out much hope for change. The fire will be smothered with earth, the smoke will be choked and life will return to normal — until the next flare up! Life in the tropics…

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