Published On: Wed, Jun 13th, 2018

MP Brison suggests enviro-tax to finance waste processing

MP Rolando BrisonPHILIPSBURG – Covering the $11.2 million financial burden of garbage collection and processing with fees charged to the approximately 7,000 households would cost these households $1,600 per year, Member of Parliament Rolando Brison calculated during the urgent meeting of the central committee about the dump on Wednesday afternoon.

“That is more than some households make in a month,” Brison said. He offered an immediate solution: levying an environmental tax on tourists. “If there is anything tourists do not have a problem with it is paying for something that will protect or improve the environment. Some do it already voluntarily, via hotels.”

Brison said that the island will maybe welcome 1 million cruise tourists this year and 60 percent of the 600,000 stay over tourists that visited the island pre-Irma. “Tourists affect our environment as well,” the parliamentarian said. “But they could become part of the solution.”

Brison’s remarks were the highlight of the Central Committee meeting. The meeting was a continuation of an earlier urgent meeting about the dump that was on the agenda in February during the term of the previous parliament.

The government answered the question posed in that meeting with a document of 22 pages, adding several reports that brought the total to around 500 pages. Parliamentarians did not have the time to read it all.

Brison also asked questions about the health-effects  of the dump fires.

MP Silveria Jacobs asked whether there is an agreement about a waste-to-energy facility with the Canadian company Envirogreen and whether this company signed a power purchase agreement with utilities company GEBE. Jacobs also wanted to know whether the government is actively looking for an alternative solution and whether there are discussions about waste processing with neighboring islands.

“A viable solution is there,” said MP Christophe Emmanuel, who brought Envirogreen into the equation when he was minister of VROMI. He claimed that 300 ton of garbage is going to the dump every day; that would amount to 109,500 ton per year, almost 22 percent below the 140,000 ton the island produces on an annual basis according to a 2009 report.

“There is nothing shady about the Envirogreen agreement,” Emmanuel said. He noted that the Canadians would build, finance, maintain, operate and – later – transfer the waste-to-energy facility at no cost to the government, while the company would also mine 100,000 ton of garbage per year from the existing landfill.

“How can this be detrimental to Gebe?” Emmanuel said, adding that Gebe is looking for $120 million from the World Bank to do its own waste-to-energy project.

Envirogreen says it will produce electricity for $0.26 per Kilowatt, while the average cost in the Caribbean is $0.29. Gebe, according to Emmanuel, could produce for $0.18. “But that is without mining the existing landfill.”

Emmanuel also urged Minister Miklos Giterson to impose garbage fees.

MP Luuk Mercelina labeled the dump as “a cancerous tumor, a silent killer.” Creating a solution, he said, requires the intention to tackle the problem, the guts to deal with the deals, and the preparedness to pay for the solution.

“We will have to pay to solve this. Citizens are going to pay for garbage collection; the commercial sector is also going to pay and there must be a tipping fee – the price haulers pay for dumping garbage at the landfill.”

Mercelina said that the methodology is another aspect to consider. “Are we going for waste-to-energy, for recycling, for exporting our garbage or for living with that cancerous tumor and die of it?”

MP Wycliffe Smith had just one question: “How close are we to a solution?”

To MP Theo Heyliger the problems at the dump with its never-ending fires did not come as a surprise. “Sometimes you get exactly what you are paying for.”

Heyliger noted, as he has done in the past, that the current contractor took the job for almost half the price the previous company charged. He said that 400 cubic meters of dirt per week to cover the garbage is insufficient and asked whether the contract has been upgraded to improve the situation.

Heyliger warned against adding a garbage fee to the Gebe-bill. “That is no guarantee that everyone will pay. Elsewhere people paid their electricity bill and not the garbage fee and their electricity did not get cut off.”

The meeting will continue next week Tuesday at 2 p.m.