Published On: Sat, Jul 27th, 2019

The most profitable solution

By Hilbert Haar

A ticking time bomb and a government with a history of ignoring court rulings; two observations from the court ruling that orders the government to finally take action and do something about the persistent problems with the dump on Pond Island.

For the plaintiffs – Barbara Cannegieter, Camiel Koster and the BZSE law office – the court ruling feels like victory. However, the question remains whether the fire suppression plan that must be in place by May 2020 is a sustainable solution.

In May, stmaartennews.com reported about government-contacts with a company called Multriwell in the Netherlands. For roughly $45 million, this company offers a technology to cover the dump, install gas-extraction equipment and turn the place into a park.

As far as I know, the VROMI-ministry is still focusing on building a waste-to-energy plant – something that will do nothing to control the problems currently posed by the dump.

But let’s take a step back and look at this from a different angle. According to a SER-report, St. Maarten produces an alarming amount of waste: 9.7 kilos per capita per day.

I looked it up twice because this seemed to me such an improbably number – but SER-documents confirm that it is correct. Our citizens produce four times more waste than their brethren in Aruba, and 5.7 times more than the residents of Trinidad & Tobago.

I still don’t know how realistic that 9.7 kilos per day is. I mean: how does anyone do that? A household of two people – like mine – would have to throw away 19.4 kilos every day. Surely, my garbage bags are not that heavy.

In all the time that I spent on the island – a good ten years – I have never noticed any government initiative geared towards diminishing the amount of household waste. Nor has there been any serious attempt at separating waste. Glass, plastics, paper and cardboard – these are just a few examples of stuff that should not end up on the dump. The French side has had a glass crusher for years and even though that machine did not work at full capacity, nobody ever got the idea to ask whether it could also crush glass from the Dutch side.

In government-lingo our dump is called the ‘sanitary landfill.’ But there is nothing sanitary about it, because the island dumps anything and everything on one big pile: household waste, electronics, car tires, paint, pallets – and so on.

Successive governments have never taken a serious initiative to address the dump. It has all been talk without substance.

We know now that the construction of the causeway bridge called for the payment of bribes. You think this has nothing to do with a solution for the dump? Think again.

Large projects require large amounts of money and that makes these projects interesting for politicians who want a piece of the action.

I once read that the best way to predict future behavior is looking at past behavior. It is never about the best solution, it is always about the most profitable solution.

You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time. But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Those lines have been attributed to the American President Abraham Lincoln. Thinking about the history of the dump I now tend to disagree with the last part of this observation.

Thick clouds of smoke billowed through Philipsburg and the Southwestern districts on Friday, Aug. 31, after a fire was ignited at the Pond Island dumpsite for debris resulting from Hurricane Irma. Here, an excavator driver tries to smother the fire and lessen the flames. Smoke filled the sky all day Friday. (D.A. Robin/Photojournalist)

Thick clouds of smoke billowed through Philipsburg and the Southwestern districts on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, after a fire was ignited at the Pond Island dumpsite for debris resulting from Hurricane Irma. Here, an excavator driver tries to smother the fire and lessen the flames. Smoke filled the sky all day Friday. (D.A. Robin/Photojournalist)

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