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Litigants Barbara Cannegieter (left) and Camiel Koster (right) with attorney Jelmer Snow of BZSE law office. (File photo)

PHILIPSBURG–The Judge in the Court of First Instance has ordered Country to St. Maarten to finalise the Fire Suppression Plan at the landfill dumpsite by May 1, 2020, at the latest. In case of non-compliance government will have to pay daily penalties of NAf. 10,000, with a maximum of NAf. 10 million, the Judge stated Friday.

On the orders of the Court the penalties that may be forfeited will be for the benefit of Nature Foundation St. Maarten.

The Court decision in the injunction comes almost one year after St. Maarten residents Barbara Cannegieter and Camiel Koster, and law firm Bergman Zwanikken Snow Essed (BZSE) filed an injunction against Country St. Maarten, the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI, and former landfill management company Robelto and Son B.V.

In the injunction, which was later joined by the Prosecutor’s Office, plaintiffs requested that the Court order government and the former garbage dump operator to take effective measures to prevent the emission of smoke, gases and stench at the landfill, and to conduct measurements of the toxic fumes and make these public.

In case of non-compliance, the Court was requested to attach to the verdict daily penalties of US $5,000, with a maximum of $1 million.

The Court rejected the claim against Robelto and Son because during these court procedures government took dump management in its own hands. Therefore, Robelto could no longer be held liable in this case, the judge stated in the verdict.

In the injunction litigants claimed that government and Robelto have for many years created an unlawful situation in which an uncontrollable pile of garbage has arisen directly on the outskirts of Philipsburg. Unsorted, unseparated and uncontrolled waste is dumped there by everyone. Uncontrolled and at no cost, waste is also dumped from French St. Maarten and from cruise ships.

This mountain of waste constantly emits gases, smoke and dust and is causing constant health problems to those living downwind from the landfill, they claimed.

According to the litigants, the government approach to the problem leaves very much to be desired, because in recent years no serious plans have been developed to tackle the waste problem.

However, pending the injunction government did get started and results were achieved, claimants acknowledge, and the number of dump fires has been significantly reduced. Measurements made by National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM in the Netherlands revealed that public health is not in direct danger. However, it should be borne in mind that there were no fires during the measurement periods.

Government recognises the alarming state the mountains of waste are in, and the potential danger these pose. Partly before the introduction of these summary proceedings, government has already drawn up plans and is in the process of implementing these, government’s lawyer Caroline van Hees and Aernout Kraaijeveld of Gibson and Associates had claimed.

‘Ticking time bomb’

Government said no large fires were recorded at the dump since November 2018. Also, security was put in place to limit the dumping of uncontrolled waste. Government said plans were running on schedule, with the tendering for the Fire Suppression Plan closing on August 20, 2019.

The judge acknowledged that government had started with fire suppression and a structural remediation of the landfill, but stated that the problem of waste management in St. Maarten has existed for many years, that the estimated lifespan of the dump has already been exceeded since 2008, and that several plans to do something about it have not been completed.

“The mere fact that RIVM had not measured high concentrations of harmful substances in the air does not mean that they have not been there in the past, or that they cannot occur again. The dump has still not been remediated and is, therefore, still a ‘ticking time bomb,’” the judge stated in the verdict.

The judge cited an unsolicited advice about waste management by the Social Economic Council SER of December 2016, in which the Council had expressed its concerns about public health. The SER reported that in a 2016 survey 40 per cent of respondents said they had undergone medical treatment due to dump-smoke-related complaints.

A 2014 study had revealed that compared with other Caribbean islands St. Maarten produced an alarming amount of waste of 9.7 kilogrammes per resident, compared with 2.34 kilos in Aruba, 2.76 kilos in Bonaire and 1.7 kilos in St. Kitts. The advice also revealed that other Caribbean islands, including French St. Martin, are better able to manage their waste.

Although the Court said it has faith in government’s good intentions and in its current efforts, history shows that tackling the dump is not an easy matter.

“There is a risk that in the absence of blazing fires the attention will weaken, or that the complex and time-consuming World Bank procedures, where the funds come from, have a daunting effect,” the judge stated.

Because both parties consider the Fire Suppression Plan a good remedy, the Court saw sufficient grounds to require St. Maarten to realise the plan.

Government was granted a nine-month period for the execution of the plan, which the Court considered a sufficient timeframe to keep government under pressure.

The judge added that normally the Court does not attach penalties to cases involving government, but “unfortunately the St. Maarten government does not always adhere to court convictions,” he stated.

Cannegieter was pleased with the Court decision, but said that in her opinion the May 1, 2020, deadline was too long. “But at least the decision keeps the pressure on to compel the government to do something. We did the best we could do. Thanks to Camiel Koster and Jelmer Snow and BZSE Law Firm for being co-plaintiffs, and guiding the way,” Cannegieter said in a Facebook comment.

Bron: Daily Herald

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