Published On: Tue, Apr 24th, 2018

A brief history of the dump

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

In June 2008  I wrote an article under the headline “Landfill remains until the end of 2010.” It appeared in the now defunct Today newspaper. In the meantime we know better. The landfill is not going anywhere for a very long time and residents and visitors will just have to put up with all the negative consequences. This is a brief review of the landfill’s recent history.

These days, complaints about yet another fire at the dump usually erupt on Facebook, but in 2008 residents filed a civil lawsuit against the government, while Pride Foundation President Jadira Veen started an online petition to force the government to take measures against the fires on the landfill. Ten years later people are still complaining about landfill fires and the government is not doing anything – at least nothing that brings this issue on short notice under control.

And mind you, the mood in 2008 was upbeat: Sipke de Haan, at the time advisor to VROMI-director Joseph Dollison, said at a press conference that it would take two-and-a-half years before a solid waste processing facility at the landfill would become operational. That sounded like a long time in 2008 but with hindsight, the whole population would have happily signed up for it.

dump accident scene

At the time, four companies – two from France, one from the Netherlands and one from the United States – had been invited to submit a bid for the project. By September 2008, the best bid would be selected and by the end of that year the Island Council would get the proposal for approval. It sounded good but it never happened.

This is what advisor De Haan said at that press conference in 2008. “The landfill is literally a few years away from reaching maximum capacity. We do not want to extend it any further. We need a structural solution.”

We know now that the term “maximum capacity” is extremely flexible. We are still trucking garbage to the dump. Officially it must have gone way beyond its life cycle by now.

In February 2008, the island territory published an ad, inviting companies to submit an “expression of interest” for the realization of a solid waste processing facility. Ten companies from all over the world reacted. Six of them did not meet all requirements; the other four were invited to submit a bid.

Pricing, environmental aspects and the capability to reduce the volume of waste by 95 percent were the three most prominent requirements the bids must meet.

The winning bid would give the company a 20-year lease on waste processing in St. Maarten. The BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer)-construction would not cost the island any money. The winning company would finance the construction in exchange for the concession.

dump file photo

“We also want that company to mine the existing landfill. In the end we want to get rid of it altogether. Every year a percentage of the landfill will be processed.”

This statement came from the head of public works, Claudius Buncamper.

We know now that this is nothing more than wishful thinking, because later we learned about a plan for a waste-to-energy facility that would mine just 10,000 tons of garbage a year from the existing landfill. Given the fact that garbage production at the time was around 140,000 ton a year, it would take fourteen years to get rid of one year’s worth of garbage.

If the mining process started with that volume tomorrow, it would take 140 years to bring the level of the dump back to the situation that existed in 2008. Oh wait, during those 140 years, the island would be stuck with 7,000 tons of waste residue per year (a total of 980,000 tons; that would by itself take another 98 years to dispose of. In other words: the dump is here to stay for generations.

Aerial photo both fires dump sites - 20180206 Photo provided