PHILIPSBURG–The Court of Appeals heard on Thursday the St. Maarten government’s appeal on the Court of First Instance verdict that ordered government to finalise the Fire Suppression Plan at the landfill dumpsite on Pond Island 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.
Government filed the appeal because it believes there is no illegitimate nuisance or damage at the dump, and states that damages were wrongly imposed. Government contends that the Court has underestimated the complexity of tackling the issues at the dump and objects to the imposed deadline of May 2020.
Government lawyers argued in Thursday’s hearing that the situation at the dump has greatly improved regarding fire, smoke and smell. In 2018 there were no fewer than 32 large- and medium-size fires at the dumpsite. Thanks to measures taken by government in 2019 that number has been reduced to only one fire in May, which was put under control within a couple of hours, said government’s legal counsel.
Government said that the results of a recent environmental and social impact assessment showed that the situation at the dump is not hazardous and dangerous. Moreover, government said it is anticipating funds from the Dutch-sponsored World Bank-administered St. Maarten Trust Fund to implement its plans for the dump.
One of the conditions for these funds to be released is the relocation of the persons living around the landfill to other locations. This amounts to around 100 families, said the government, adding that it is not realistically possible to relocate that number of persons before May 1, 2020.
While the lawyers for the claimants agree that conditions at the dump have improved, they described the situation as “urgent.” They said the landfill remains a public nuisance and smell of burning material is still being emitted from the dump, which may cause health concerns.
According to plaintiffs, the government made many plans in the past decades to solve the problems at the dump and nothing was done about it. The government considers itself committed to the Fire Suppression Plan, but does not want to commit itself to a specific date, they said. With St. Maarten’s governmental instability, the Court order may be the only thing that forces the situation to improve. “This is the last chance for the endless planning.”
In a similar light, the lawyers also considered the government’s argument about the requirements of the World Bank as weak justification for granting an extension. As this issue has been known for many years, “how would the problem at the dump be solved without [Hurricane – Ed.] Irma and the World Bank?” they asked.
The Court will give its decision in this case on January 17, 2020.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/92491-govt-s-appeal-in-dump-case-heard-on-thursday