Friday, January 19, 2018

Ganga: Beetham fires underestimated


WATCHFUL EYES: Police officers wear masks yesterday as the Beetham landfill re-opened under heightened security, following a series of fires that the Solid Waste Management Co Ltd (Swmcol) believes was arson. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

Mark Fraser

WITH the gates of the Beetham landfill reopened yesterday, the Solid Waste Management Co Ltd (Swmcol) has declined to confirm whether or not Beetham residents who scavenge at the site will be allowed to continue.

Chairman of Swmcol, Nalini Sooklal, told the media yesterday the issue of scavenging by Beetham residents is an intense “social” one and while the company has reopened the site under heightened security, sensitivity will be shown to those who earn a living at  the landfill.

Sooklal would not, however, say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to whether it will be business as usual for the scavengers.

“We continue to do our job and we continue to secure the site as best as we possibly can at this time,” Sooklal said.

She had earlier stated that Swmcol has “co-existed” peacefully with a large number of Beetham residents who earn their living at the landfill and these people, as well as communities near the State’s other landfill sites, will be taken into consideration when decisions are made on the future of local waste disposal.

The gates were reopened yesterday after nearly a week of being shut down, as Swmcol fought to control up to a dozen fires that sprang up last Sunday.

The last and deepest of the fires has been all but extinguished but Sooklal maintained yesterday that the company believes the fires were set in protest, following the police shooting last Sunday of a Beetham man at the site.

The landfill will for some time operate under the watchful eyes of an increased police presence and private security.

Sooklal was speaking at a press conference at the landfill, following an aerial tour by Swmcol officials and Environment and Water Resources Minister Ganga Singh.

The site had been ordered shut down temporarily by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), when smoke from the fires descended on Port of Spain. 

Air testing earlier this week led to the EMA expressing  “grave concern” over the toxic quality of the air. 

The EMA has since Thursday, however, assured the country that continued testing has shown air quality to have stabilised. 

The landfill was reopened to accommodate the regional corporations that use it to dispose of the tens of tonnes of waste generated by Port of Spain and environs, which had been diverted to the State’s dump site at Guanapo —a development that was not welcomed by residents there.

Costs are still being tallied for the firefighting exercise in POS so far but Sooklal said Swmcol received significant assistance from State agencies such as the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service, through the coordinating efforts of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) and the National Operations Centre (NOC).

Minister Singh said Cabinet has committed to finding long-term solutions to waste disposal and will act through a variety of legislation, including the Beverage Container Act, which is being hashed out and which is expected to allow significant inroads into the development of a recycling culture.

Sooklal said up to 80 per cent of the waste generated by the townships is recyclable.

The Draft Air Pollution Rules (APR) has also been laid in Parliament, Singh said and when questioned about the possibility of Swmcol facing penalties from the EMA, he responded that the company did not have the resources to sustain a hefty monetary fine.

Singh said he believed the extent of the fires was “underestimated” and Swmcol had exhausted its resources in battling them before the magnitude of the problem was realised.