By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Waste disposal companies were forced to offload garbage on their properties, the Chamber’s chief executive revealed yesterday, after the New Providence landfill cut opening hours and dramatically increased wait times over the peak Christmas period.
Edison Sumner told Tribune Business he had been in contact with Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment, over the holiday season to address the sector’s concerns about the impact to their businesses, the environment and Bahamians’ health.
“That situation was brought to our attention by some of the operators in the waste management business,” he said.
“The concern that was raised was the hours of operation were not conducive to the workload experienced, particularly over the holidays when the landfill was closed for half the day, and also closed earlier than anticipated.
“One or two of the operators, we were advised, had to offload their debris on their own properties because they could not get access to the landfill on a timely basis to offload.”
Tribune Business sources yesterday suggested the problems at the Tonique Williams Highway-based site were continuing, with waste management companies and others enduring a two-hour wait before they could properly ‘tip’ their loads.
“It’s taking two hours to dump a load, and you can’t run a business that way. This has been ongoing for three weeks; they cut the landfill hours to under five hours at the busiest time of year,” one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business.
Another industry contact added: “They had limited hours at the landfill. The biggest problem is just the wait time.”
Mr Sumner, meanwhile, said the industry was also concerned about tipping fees, which had been waived in Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath to encourage Bahamians to properly dispose of storm-related debris and damaged products.
He added that it was unclear whether tipping fees had been reinstated, with operators in the waste management industry keen to do the right thing and pay what was due.
Another contact intimately familiar with the New Providence landfill’s operations said the facility was “trying to collect as much fees as it can”, while also seeking to ease the burden on hurricane victims.
They added that the landfill’s operation had degenerated into “chaos” after its private sector manager, Renew Bahamas, elected to exercise the option in its contract that allowed it to ‘walk away’ in the event of a major disaster, such as a hurricane.
The landfill has been back in the Department of Environmental Services (DEHS) hands since Renew Bahamas departed in Matthew’s wake, and the source said the “order” established by the private company had effectively collapsed.
“Renew has pretty much abandoned the whole thing,” they added. “Renew brought a sense of order to the whole environment.
“Now it’s not there, it’s back to the Government, so people are dumping garbage all over the place, not coming over the weigh bridge and not paying tipping fees. Because Renew has gone, there’s chaos.”
Mr Dorsett did not return phone and e-mail messages from Tribune Business seeking comment before press time last night.
However, Mr Sumner said the Chamber’s discussions with the Minister concerning the landfill had led them to “believe he was making every effort to accommodate the waste management industry”.
“Some things did not occur quickly enough for them to get things done,” the Chamber chief executive added.
“There was apparently some equipment challenges at the landfill, which we understand have been corrected since, and because of that there’s been a challenge in operations at the landfill.
“The decision had been taken that over the holiday the landfill would be open for half a day, which did not satisfy the needs and requirements of the industry.”
Mr Sumner said the waste management industry’s concern, with another holiday approaching in the shape of Majority Rule Day, was whether there would be extended hours at the landfill to accommodate its offloading.
He called for continued dialogue between the Government and industry over the landfill, adding that the latter “have indicated to me that they are prepared to assist the Government where they can in building capacity or providing equipment to ensure the efficiency of the landfill’s operations”.
Mr Sumner added: “I believe that offer still stands on the table, and there needs to be further discussion between the industry, Ministry of the Environment and Department of Environmental Health Services to take advantage of this.”
Acknowledging that the landfill was going through “a transition” following Renew Bahamas’ withdrawal, Mr Sumner said the Chamber’s focus on energy and the environment meant it was keenly aware of the site’s importance.
“The Chamber understands the correlation between the environment and a healthy business environment, so we will bring the necessary level of resources to have an efficient operation at the landfill,” Mr Sumner said.