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    Anatomy of a Landfill Controversy

    By Keith R | March 15, 2007

    Topics: Economics & the Environment, Environmental Protection, Waste & Recycling | No Comments »

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    Working on waste issues in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), you see a lot of controversies involving disposal sites.

    Many times it is some neighborhood that does not want a landfill anywhere near them, either because they fear it will affect their health or property values, they dislike the smell a badly managed site will emit, or they don’t want the noise of an endless parade of sanitation trucks in and out of the site or of diesel tractors covering the freshly dumped debris.

    Sometimes the concerns are well-founded, sometimes it is a simple case of NIMBY (“Not in My Back Yard”) syndrome that will ignore every technical study telling them that the site is appropriate and the problems will be minimized. The opening of many a new landfill has been delayed for years or over a decade (think Jalonguilla in Quito, Ecuador) over such battles.

    Sometimes the fight is about a site started as a dump without any regard to the environmental consequences, and then sanitary/environmental officials have to find a way to rectify the situation and/or minimize the negative environmental impacts. I discussed just such a case here recently involving the Gramacho landfill outside Rio de Janeiro.

    Sometimes it is about a site that began well and appropriately, but for some reason — change in administration, budget cuts, or some other, fell into disrepair, sparking new environmental and/or health concerns.

    Sometimes it is a fight between jurisdictions about use of a site. Jurisdiction X no longer wants to be the dumping ground for jurisdiction Y, and starts blocking access to the disposal site within their territory, or insists that the other jurisdiction start paying “taxes” or “fees” for the privilege of accessing the site. This happened with Duquesa in Santo Domingo, with the main dump in Caracas, and is a significant feature of the fight underway between the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (CABA) and the surrounding Province of Buenos Aires (PBA).

    land shifts in the Greenland zoneThen there is the case of Greenland in Barbados

    A few months back I was googling landfill-related information when I stumbled upon an entry about the Greenland site in the Barbados Free Press blog. I was appalled by what I read — not by the blog itself, silly! [I have since become a fan and regular reader of this spirited blog.] Rather, about the problems and issues associated with the project and how the government was handling it.

    As I read a few more of BFP’s entries on the topic, I got this nagging feeling that I had heard of this case before somewhere. So I checked the (paper, not electronic) notes and file folders for the two editions (1998, 2002) of my book on waste and recycling policy in LAC. Sure enough, I had notes on it both times, but only managed a brief mention of it in the second edition of the book.

    Why? Because the only “authoritative” documentation on it I could find at the time was a vague Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) project description, required because IDB was providing some of the funding. My inquiries for more details had (characteristically) been ignored by the Government of Barbados (GOB) and (uncharacteristically) by the relevant IDB officials. And unlike most IDB-funded projects, there are no follow-up documents available to the public. Looking back, in the light of what I have read in BFP and gathered elsewhere, it’s easy to guess why: answering questions about Greenland might reveal too many inconvenient truths.

    The Greenland saga has the makings of a Kafkaesque soap opera (novela as they call it in Latin America). To get its full flavor, you really should read the BFP series on it (follow the links provided below).

    Without giving away too much of the plot, in the 1990s the GOB needed to find a replacement for the rapidly filling Mangrove Pond landfill. It decided on Greenland in Scotland District of St. Andrews parish (see map), even though the site technically was within Scotland National Park and thus violated the national land use plan. [A group challenged the siting in court on this basis during the 1990s, but the case was thrown out on a technicality (that the land use plan was not an Act of Parliament per se).] Also, it turns out, the consulting engineers (privately) had expressed concerns about this locale because of its unstable geology and its potential to contaminate Barbados’ critical aquifers (Barbados has few surface sources of drinkable water). [In point of fact, in a document GOB submitted to the UN in 2002 it calls the Scotland District “highly unstable” and susceptible to land slippage and the Government’s main concern about land degradation on the island!]

    In spite of all this, GOB was able to get international funding from the IDB and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for a grand-sounding “integrated waste management plan” (in the run-up to Rio+10 Barbados filed several documents on sustainable development with the United Nations touting this plan) with Greenland as its centerpiece.

    Nearly 10 years after seeking IDB funds for it, Greenland is still not open and is undergoing yet another attempt at “re-engineering” it for “imminent” opening, with no official technical explanation for the repeated delays (not that the GOB has shared any of the significant details of this project with its citizens from the start). It appears that some of the problems foreshadowed by consultants in the 1990s have reared their ugly heads after all.

    However, rather than admit the mistake and seek a more suitable site, the GOB appears determined to proceed with Greenland no matter what — despite its risks to Scotland National Park and the groundwater supply. All for a landfill site that even the most optimistic projections give at most a 20-year lifespan.

    Why hasn’t the GOB sought and obtained a more suitable site?

    Why haven’t the IDB and CDB asserted all those environmental policies and safeguards they like to talk about in order to pressure the GOB into doing so?

    And given that Greenland was never more than a stop-gap measure, why hasn’t the GOB aggressively pursued a truly comprehensive, ambitious waste minimization plan? Or even a zero waste strategy?

    Stay tuned for the next installment of “As the Trash Churns…”!

    Rape Of A National Treasure Continues At Greenland Dump

    St. Andrew MP George Payne Highlights Land Slippage In Area Of Greenland Dump

    Greenland Dump Project Doubles In Cost Overnight – And That Figure Is Still A Lie!

    Greenland Fiasco Dooms Barbados – Professor Machel Names The Liars, Thieves & Incompetents

    Professor Machel Replies To CommentsGreenland Fiasco Dooms Barbados

    Greenland Dump – A Disaster In The Making: C.O. Williams Bulldozers Start Work

    Barbados Sand Fingers Poke Through The Clay At Greenland Dump

    After Barbados Greenland Waste Site Is Full – Then What?

    Barbados Greenland Landfill Tenders: Let The Graft Begin!

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