Landfill in St. Maarten has Dutch Parliament’s attention

THE HAGUE–The St. Maarten landfill and the adjacent so-called baby dump with mostly rubbish from Hurricane Irma received ample attention during a meeting of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament with State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops on Thursday.

Parliament’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations brought up this literally burning issue. Noting that the landfill had not become a problem since the hurricane, but had been a problem long before that, Member of Parliament (MP) André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party wondered whether this was a matter of ignorance or unwillingness.
“Discussions have been ongoing for many years, but no sustainable solution has been implemented,” said Bosman. He emphasised that this was a responsibility of the St. Maarten government, which needed to act.

Knops agreed that sanitising the landfill was first and foremost an autonomous task. He said he had made very clear during his two visits to St. Maarten this month that it was the local government that had to respond to this very urgent matter. The Dutch government has offered expertise to speed up the process of sanitising the landfill, which will be a long-term affair. Cooperation with the French side has been sought.

The political will is needed to solve the waste management issue in a sustainable manner. Doing so will involve setting up a waste management system, and that system will have a price tag. St. Maarten’s waste management, including the collection of trash, has always been free of charge. “Dumping trash never comes without cost. Free doesn’t exist,” said Knops.

He implied that this will have to change in order to pay for sanitation of the landfill and to secure proper waste management in the future. This will require political commitment. “The local government will have to explain to the people that the waste management system costs money.”

Bosman remarked that the introduction of a waste management fee, payable by residents and companies, could trigger illegal discharge of waste along roads, in the bushes, in ponds and waters. “You see this happening in Curaçao,” he said.

That is why, according to Bosman, authorities should also work on the law enforcement side, issuing fines in cases of illegal dumping. Also important is the social perception of illegal dumping and the eyesore it creates for the island. “Your island will not be very attractive for tourists if they see dumped trash everywhere,” he said.

Knops reiterated that waste management was an autonomous affair of the country St. Maarten, but that the Netherlands has indicated that this should be a top priority during the reconstruction of the island after the hurricane for which the Dutch government has made 550 million euros available.

However, Knops added, “I want to prevent that we will be designing the entire solution for St. Maarten. Local politics, including the Parliament, should start seeing this as a top priority. We have to solve this for the people and tourism. It is in St. Maarten’s own interest.”

Knops explained to the MPs during Thursday’s meeting why it was so important to act quickly and diligently in this matter: “Public health is in peril. People are suffering from the toxic fumes. It is already hard to spend a few hours in it, let alone having to live in it the entire day. We have to act swiftly.” He said his ministry has been receiving many messages from residents who have asked for help from the Netherlands.

Source: The Daily Herald