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PURELY POLITICAL: Come out, Dr Lowe


Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: Come out, Dr Lowe

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The preservation of the natural environment is absolutely critical to the social and economic future of Barbados. – Democratic Labour Party Manifesto 2013.
In its manifesto, the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) also declared that the “process of environmental care is the concern of every citizen and resident of Barbados”.
One would have to believe that the person charged with the care of the environment would have a mandate that gives them a greater duty and responsibility than the ordinary Barbadian in ensuring the care and preservation of the natural environment of this fair land of ours.
My concern here is that it has been a clear two weeks since the horrific fire at the B’s Metal Recycling Plant in Reece Road, Cane Garden, St Thomas, that not only threatened to destroy the surrounding areas but also posed a danger to the health and properties of residents nearby, and Barbadians have not yet heard from Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe.
Instead, those residents and the rest of the wider community have had only the reassurances that Government would look after their interests from Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite.
Lowe’s silence is puzzling because one would have thought that his portfolio assignment made him perfectly placed to speak on any measures Government might be contemplating to protect people whose proximity to such operations not only inconvenience them, but puts their health and their very lives in danger.
By this time, Lowe ought to have given Barbadians an understanding of the future of the business of metal recycling, whether a suitable location can be found that does not threaten the well-being of residents and, more important, under what terms and conditions, or regulations, if you prefer, such a business would be permitted to operate.
Now, long before the fire, there was a raging controversy over an alleged land swap between the Government and the operators of the recycling business that would have seen the operations moving to state lands in Bagatelle, also in St Thomas, reportedly in exchange for land at River Bay, St Lucy, owned by Andrew Bynoe, one of the proprietors of B’s Recycling.
At the time, the minister issued a wholly unconvincing denial of the alleged land swap and since then there has been a deafening silence, particularly following the fire, when questions were asked about the likelihood of the recycling plant being relocated to the Bagatelle site.
“The Government of Barbados has not swapped any land – [at] River Bay or the Metal Dump at Bagatelle,” Lowe told a Press conference. “That is the first thing. A Cabinet paper was written by my ministry in which the Government was asked to consider the transfer of the Bagatelle facility to B’s Recycling.
“In that paper, the ministry indicated to Cabinet that once it had given consent to contemplate the decision that was asked for, that: (i) the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) would have to be satisfied that the necessary studies would be done, which is the social impact study and the environmental impact study; and (ii) that B’s Recycling would have to, of necessity, submit an operational plan that included all of the stipulated requirements of the Town and Country Planning Department, and that once that was done, then the Cabinet would consider whether the decision asked for would be granted. That is the Cabinet Paper. So no decision has been taken.”
In the aftermath of the Cane Garden fire, one of the Bynoe brothers, Paul, indicated that equipment the company had at Bagatelle – apparently preparatory to getting Government approval to set up – would be removed, and disclosed that discussions were ongoing with Government about relocation to a site at Vaucluse, also in St Thomas.
In February 2012, when negotiations were taking place about the Government’s alleged interest in acquiring Andrew Bynoe’s land at River Bay to be used as a recreational site, and his expressed desire for the Bagatelle landfill to be part of the exchange, he reported that the Vaucluse site was “not available”.
In a February 8 letter to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment, Andrew Bynoe wrote: “On the strength of previous negotiations to be resited at Vaucluse, B’s Recycling has equipment which is due to arrive in the island in March. The Vaucluse site is not available. Bagatelle is seen as the alternative site.”
In light of his brother’s disclosure that negotiations are currently going on with Government about a move to Vaucluse, one must perforce ask what, if anything, has changed in relation to Vaucluse? Has the site suddenly become available? If so, what were the circumstances that made it unavailable in February 2012? How and why have those circumstances changed to make the site a possible location now for the recycling operations?
If perchance Vaucluse remains “unavailable”, does that now mean that Government and the brothers may again take a look at Bagatelle as the “alternative site”?
Both Government and the businessmen are aware of the strong expressions of concern and queries raised by the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) in May last year when it came to light that there had been a Cabinet agreement on the operation of the recycling facility at Bagatelle.
In a May 16 letter to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Lands, the acting SSA manager reported that in September 2008, the authority had a survey of the Bagatelle site completed in anticipation of the placement of a fenced perimeter to put an end to trespassing on the site, which had become an ongoing problem.
The letter said the surveyors had indicated that there were several issues related to encroachments and specifically one related to a landlocked portion of the land in the south-west area of the site for which they were unable to identify the owner.
It added: “In 1995, a survey was also conducted in the eastern section of the site adjacent to the Bagatelle Gardens area. This survey changed the location of the boundary in this area and moved it westwards. After making several inquiries it was ascertained from the residents that the land was promised by Government as a buffer zone between the development and the Bagatelle site. The Lands and Surveys drawing indicates that the line marks have been relocated . . . .”
The manager noted that although the Cabinet decision indicated that B’s Recycling was to submit a relocation and operational plan, there were no details as to what the plan was to contain.
“It should be noted that there was no mention of the requirements for a social and environmental impact assessment, which is usually required in such a case, particularly if the private entity is considering a different use for the site, i.e., the placement of machinery to reduce metal or mining the site to extract buried metal.
“The issue of noise and dust proliferation will become a major issue at the site if mining activities and compaction of metal using purpose-built machinery is going to be carried out. Concerns are also raised about the storage of large heaps of metal on the site, which the entity is currently practicing (sic) at its location in Cane Garden since this had the potential for creating a breeding ground for vectors such as rodents and mosquitoes.
“Since the site is flanked by residential areas on all sides, this current practice may prove disastrous and potentially cause public objection to the operations. The regulatory agencies should be called upon to detail a specific plan to regulate, monitor and control all aspects of the proposed operation.”
Though this advice was not made directly to Lowe, it is available to him and Barbadians, especially those who live close to these sites, are anxiously waiting to hear his plans, not only for fire prevention and control, but also a comprehensive set of regulations that would govern the operations of a recycling plant wherever sited.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.

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