Published On: Sat, Jul 27th, 2019

Court sets deadline for solution to dump nuisance

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BZSE Law - Citizen Take Government to Court about Dump

PHILIPSBURG – The Court in First Instance put the Ministry of Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) with its back against the proverbial wall on Friday with a ruling that orders the government to complete its fire suppression plan for the dump on Pond Island by May 1, 2020, the latest. Non-compliance carries a penalty of 10,000 guilders ($5,587) per day with a maximum of 10 million (just over $5.5 million).

Plaintiffs Barbara Cannegieter, Camiel Koster and the BZSE law office will not be the beneficiaries of these penalties; the court considers that disproportionate enrichment. Instead, penalties will have to be paid to the Nature Foundation.

Last year, Cannegieter, Koster and BZSE filed a lawsuit against country St. Maarten, its VROMI-ministry and Robelto&Son – at the time the company that managed the dump. Since  then, the government has taken over the management task.

The plaintiffs demanded that the government complete the fire suppression plan for the dump by December 31, 2019, but Judge Peter Lemaire gave St. Maarten some more breathing space by setting May 1, 2020, as the deadline.

Cannegieter expressed her partial satisfaction with the court ruling in a Facebook-post. The time the government gets to complete its fire suppression plan is “too long,” she wrote. “But at least the decision keeps the pressure on to compel the government to do something. We did the best we could do.”

While the country’s attorneys Aernout Kraaijeveld and Chris van Hees pointed out that the government has taken already several steps to improve dump-management and that the plaintiffs therefore no longer had an interest in a court ruling, the judge labeled the dump in his ruling as “a ticking time bomb.”

In an unsolicited advice dated December 21, 2016, the Social Economic Council (SER) pointed out that the dump had reached its maximum capacity in 2008. The SER also expressed concerns about public health.

A survey performed in 2016 showed that 40 percent of respondents needed medical treatment due to dump-smoke related ailments. The SER noted that St. Maarten is producing an alarming amount of waste: 9.7 kilos per capita, while those numbers are significantly lower in places like Aruba (2.4), Bonaire (2.76), St. Kitts (1.7) and Trinidad (3.26 kilos).

Furthermore it appears that the French side is doing a better job with its waste management; the court concluded therefore that the problems St. Maarten is facing with persistent fires and the emission of smoke, gases and stench, are manageable.

While the defense argued that the dump-fires are now under control, the ruling states that the dump is still smoldering (the temperature at the core is around 300 degrees Celcius) and that the risk of new fires is significant.

The court attached a penalty clause to its ruling. That is exceptional because usually the court does not threaten the government with penalties under the assumption that it will abide by its rulings. This time, the court used the government’s history to validate its penalty-decision: “Unfortunately it has happened in the past that the government does not abide by court rulings.”

From the onset, on September 27, 2018, the court spent four sessions on hearings; two in 2018 and two in 2019 – the last one on July 4. In between parties submitted written arguments nine times. The public prosecutor’s office used its right to peruse the court documents and its right to be heard.


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