By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
A SOCIAL media post has sparked a war of words between senior personnel in the two most recent management units tasked with oversight of the New Providence Landfill; each side staking their claim as the “group that made the difference”.
“Here is the part of the dump where used tyres are being stored.”
It was this September 4 Facebook post that brought to the fore long-held tensions between the Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) landfill management team and the company it was brought in to replace, Renew Bahamas.
The rest of the post, made to the Raising Awareness for the Bahamas Landfill’s Facebook page, read: “I’m going to say this hoping that a word to the wise gets to the right ears. This is exactly what went up in smoke a few years ago when they were at the top of the hill. I figured that there was a bonfire then because it was convenient.
“Here’s hoping this isn’t the fuel for the first of the one in every two hundred years fires that we are supposed to believe to expect,” the post concluded.
In the hours that followed, comments poured in from other concerned citizens, environmentalists and Michael Cox, Renew Bahamas’ chief executive.
In addressing the issue surrounding the current condition of the New Providence Landfill, Mr Cox claimed the government’s refusal to meet with and help Renew, exasperated mounting issues at the property.
“We have not abandoned the unit and we are still on-island trying to meet with the Government,” he wrote.
“The Government is the one who is refusing to meet and work through the issues of their own making.
“We offered to bale and export the tyres (at cost) so that this did not happen (without prejudice to ongoing issues).
“There is around 1200 tyres per day coming in and they were warned of the risks… Everyone knows about this as we sent a small document offering to continue to help and we got no replies.”
In a separate response, he said he was of the view the government does not want recycling elements at the property and is not serious about changing operations to properly protect the environment.
“Actions always speak louder than words,” he wrote.
The comments did not sit well with Thomasina Wilson, senior deputy at DEHS with responsibility for all landfills throughout the country, who, in several posts of her own offered to present evidence in support of her team’s work and welcomed anyone with an opposing view to visit the site for themselves.
Insight took her up on the offer.
During a nearly two-hour tour of the multi-acre property, Wilson - who admitted her frustration with “the constant misinformation and false reporting” - insisted the government’s DEHS team has “worked our ass off to fix the mess (Renew) left”.
“Enough is enough,” Ms Wilson declared.
Our first stop - the tyres at the centre of the debate.
“When Renew left, there was so much garbage around this facility, we could barely get around to the back of it. But you see them everywhere talking all the nonsense in the world.
“It has gone too far.”
Pointing to the back section of Renew’s former office, Wilson said: “We cleaned all of that up, we pulled this property back together.
“Look at it, you can see every part of what we had to do.
“But, they on Facebook talking like they saved this site.
“Look at the distance between where the tyres are and where the materials recovery facility (MRF) is. I am talking hundreds of feet. But they come in and take pictures from funny angles to push the message that we are the problem.”
Pulling up as close to the MRF as possible, she continued: “We could have just left this entire area the way the did, but we need to access the back portion of this site
“Renew dug a well right up under the MRF, tyres, (microwaves, fridges, stoves), metal, bottles; all sorts of waste was tossed and dumped any and everywhere around here.”
Pausing her interview with The Tribune to address a tractor operator working to full in the well, Wilson is heard asking the operator about the amount of work he had to do to fill in the spot.
His response - “all the boulders on this end,” pointing to six-foot wall partly erected around the MRF, “all of the wall and all the rocks we got from the hill,” the tractor operator added as he pointed towards a 10-foot hill next to the MRF, “all of that we put in there and it still ain’t full.”
Wilson said: “See, all of those old bottles and things? They leave so much bottles all over the place. You hear me? We couldn’t come this way (referring to the northwestern end of the property). We had to pick our way through.”
According to Ms Wilson, things were left in such a hazardous state, her team was forced into shifting tipping operations over to “old spots”.
In June, The Tribune reported concerns over what some believe to be the unregulated expansion of the New Providence Landfill.
At the time, residents lining the landfill site near Fire Trail Road and Sir Milo Butler Highway, claimed tractors and other heavy duty machines could be seen on a daily basis, pushing the boundaries of the property closer to their communities.
At the time, Wilson said efforts to compact several sections of the landfill and develop a southern entrance led to the speculation.
Addressing the claims again yesterday, Wilson said DEHS’ decision to use cells they haven’t used since the late 1980s have led many near the property to confuse their activities with expansion.
Pointing over to a deep crater supposedly dug-out by Renew just off from the MRF, Wilson said: “Look, this is what I am talking about. After all we did to get back to this point, we came across the big hole; we call it a well, but why dig it so close to the MRF and at that, under one of your shoots?
“It makes me believe that they were only here to harvest certain waste.
“Once they got what it is that they wanted, they couldn’t care less what happened to everything else,” she claimed.
“It is sad because when you look at what we have here today, (Renew) wants all the credit for it.
“But trust me, those who know - they know what all we had to do to save this site; to avoid the potential for fires.
“It’s truly unbelievable because they took a site set aside for years of use, and through their bad practices and mismanagement, ran through it in less than two years.”
“It was in such bad shape when we got the property back, we had to quickly compact the hills over on the old spots from back in the (80s) just to have somewhere to tip.
“So that put us in a spot where we had to not only manage the day-to-day of the property, we had to work remediation and clean-up, all while trying to keep people from adding on to the wrong locations.
“That is what frustrates me the most... We finally have this place operating to a point were we are now getting by again, and everyday we have to hear their nonsense.
“I’m not here to go back and forth with no one. I am here to do my job; manage this property.”
During the two-hour journey, Wilson got into a heated exchange with a man who’d sneaked on to the site, sped past security personnel and dumped an entire load of used car parts.
When approached by Wilson, the illegal-dumper claimed he’d seen no signs saying he shouldn’t be dumping the waste.
“You just can’t do that man,” said Wilson. “We are working way too hard here for you to pull up here and do whatever you want to do. Please go and pick it up and take it to the right spot.”
The man refused leaving Wilson no choice but to ban him from the site.
A short while later, Wilson pulls up to a group of men and rolls down her window.
After a brief stare down, one of the men can be heard saying: “We leaving now.”
An hour later, over on the “old spots”, Wilson spent about five minutes chasing away a scavenger.
Sporting gloves and clenching two mesh-sacks, the scavenger made his get away through a dirt path just north of Fire Trial Road.
“We see the reports on the fire. We hear the news about our failures. No one, and I mean no one talks about all we are doing to address the many problems that occur out here on a day to day basis,” said Wilson.
“This is what I want Bahamians to understand. We aren’t here doing things to harm them or the environment. We here trying to do all we can to manage this situation we call the dump.”
Providence Advisors/Waste Resources Development Group Consortium was chosen last week as the bidder for the investment and management of the landfill property.
The consortium will be paid to transform the dump into what will become New Providence Ecology Park.
As yet there are no definite timelines for when the company is expected take over the site.
Wilson’s team will remain in place until then - theirs a dirty and seemingly thankless task.