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Mar 29, 2005

Burning garbage dump irritates city

Story PictureIt’s not the first time it’s happened and–official pronouncements aside–will probably not be the last. I’m talking about the burning Belize City garbage dump. Over the weekend a change in wind direction sent the thick acrid smoke directly into the heart of the old capital. This morning I visited the area and met with some politicians trying to deal with the situation.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
It looks bad from the air…and smells even worse on the ground. But for the last four days, residents of Belize City have been enduring a haze of smoke from the municipal garbage site at mile three on the Western Highway. The ten acre compound erupted in flames, presumably through spontaneous combustion, on Saturday evening. By Sunday afternoon, thick smoke bellowed into the air from the burning debris, at one point greatly reducing midday visibility at the City?s western entrance. Belize City Mayor David Fonseca says authorities are doing all they can to try and ease the suffering of residents.

David Fonseca, Belize City Mayor
?Since the fire started we have the fire department up her working basically nearly close to twenty-four hours on the site. As you know its garbage so it?s burning not only on the top, but it?s burning more on the bottom. So it?s difficult for them to do it on their own. We have now moved in since yesterday afternoon an excavator that is trenching the garbage, turning it over and thereby getting to the fire on the bottom. But in addition to that, what we are doing is working along with government through the solid waste management authority to try to get the implementation of the national solid waste plan to be implemented at mile twenty-two.?

Patrick Jones
?That plan was approved about seven years ago; but Minister of Home Affairs Ralph Fonseca says the fight with environmentalists about moving the garbage dump from here to mile twenty-three on the Western Highway has delayed the whole move by about three to four years.?

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Home Affairs
?It was under attack by the environmentalists for three to four years. And in fact the IDB study was almost postponed because of that attack that had to be dealt with first. And then we got back on track. So now the waste management authority has finally gotten acceptance for mile twenty-three. First it was at mile twenty-seven I think, and they are now putting out to tender for the private sector to get involved. But we lost about to three to four years.?

Patrick Jones
?So basically how soon should we see a move to mile twenty-three?

Ralph Fonseca
?I would think, well they are going to start to move garbage as soon as we have this thing under control, to mile twenty-three. But the actual plan it self, you will have to check with the Mayor; he is the chairman of the authority. I think they have the tender document ready to go out now. So I would say within six months you will see the actual facility being put in place.?

Mayor Fonseca says a paper has been forward to cabinet for discussion and they are hoping that body will green light the move to the new site as a matter of urgent public business. He says that experience has given the City Council important pointers on how to deal with these kinds of situations.

David Fonseca
?We?re on the ground physically trying to ensure that we get rid of this smoke as quick as possible. I think we have learned from two years ago when we had a similar situation how to tackle this fire, and so we are doing it in that manner right now. And hopefully within a day or two we should extinguish the smoke and the fire overall. We have one excavator and there are three others coming up as we speak. So hopefully by the end of the day we?ll have more excavators on site working throughout the entire landfill to get the job done quicker.?

Minister Fonseca says G.O.B. is working with local authorities to bring the situation under control.

Ralph Fonseca
?We?ve spent a fortune nationwide trying to help the various municipalities. And of course the Belize City council dealing with situations like this. It?s all across the country. In our own constituency we have got big time problems. And we consume a lot more today. And just about everything that we consume has some kind of packaging that has to be thrown away, and it?s not bio degradable. And that?s the problem that we are dealing with. If you look around you see rubber, you see metal, plastic acts just like fuel. That?s what we are dealing with. Material world, lots of consumption which brings lots of garbage, which means waste management becomes very crucial and it?s very expensive, very expensive.?

But most of the expense for the new facility, roughly six million dollars is expected to be offset by the much vilified environmental tax. In the meantime, Mayor Fonseca calls on city residents to exercise patience.

David Fonseca
?It?s difficult knowing that I was affected last night also in my home and I live on the extreme northeast of the city when the wind changed last night. So I know what they are going through, especially those that are closest to the land fill. And yeah I?m asking them to just hold out and hopefully the wind stays with us today. It?s blowing from the east so it?s blowing it away from the city. Partially out to sea and up the road, although people live up the road, but they are less affected in that manner. And with the equipment that we have out here now and to come today we should see less of the smoke between today and tomorrow.?

The original solid waste management plan, which was supposed to be financed by the one percent environmental tax, calls for garbage from Benque, San Ignacio, Belmopan and Belize City to be hauled to the mile twenty-four site by extremely large trucks. The plan also calls for refuse from San Pedro and Caye Caulker to be barged to Belize City for transport to the mile twenty-four site.

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