Greenland Fiasco Dooms Barbados – Professor Machel Replies to Comments

Editor’s Note

After Barbados Free Press published Greenland Fiasco Dooms Barbados by University of Alberta Professor Hans G. Machel, the hit-o-meter went crazy and the article ended up at #80 on the WordPress.com Top Posts list. To put this in perspective, on December 21, 2006 the article was the 80th most popular post out of the millions of posts online at 545,489 WordPress.com blogs!

Obviously Professor Machel’s article struck a chord with the thousands of people who read it. Today, Professor Machel has taken the time to reply to some of the issues and questions raised by BFP readers who commented on the original post.

Barbados Free Press has published Professor Machel’s reply exactly as he sent it to us this morning, with not one word changed. For readability, we have divided some of the larger sections into paragraphs – specifically inserting the breaks now seen after paragraphs 5, 6, 12, and 15. Similarly, where bold style appears, this was done by Barbados Free Press – again to enhance readability.

BFP inserted Liz Thompson’s photo to provide a visual break from the text and to illustrate the article The other two photos were supplied by Professor Machel.

Take it away, Professor Machel…

Greenland Fiasco Dooms Barbados – Reply to Comments

Kudos to those many thousands of readers that propelled the Greenland landfill issue to #80 on WordPress.com Top Posts List on December 21. Finally this issue has received worldwide attention.

A very considerable number of people has made comments to my article directly on-line, and in e-mails directly to me. I should like to reply to some of these comments, specifically to those posted on-line.

greenland-barbados-landslide-2.jpg

First off, several individuals asked, directly or indirectly, for more information on the technical issue. In a nutshell, Greenland is the worst possible site for a new landfill in Barbados, and there is a large area infinitely better suited – albeit not ideal – for the new landfill. This area is in the parish of St. Lucy, which has several locations that would meet 6, 7 or 8 of the 9 qualifying criteria. By contrast, Greenland fails 7 of the 9 qualifying criteria, and it is totally unsuitable for a landfill. Most importantly, Greenland is in an area of torrential rainfalls, prone to regular flooding and washouts, subject to land slippage and constant soil creep. Furthermore, its base cannot be sealed permanently, which results in constant groundwater seeping into the site, as well as toxic leachate leaving the site. A landfill at Greenland will be an environmental disaster. Any country that places even a minimum of value on environmental protection should not even consider a site such as Greenland for a landfill, let alone develop it.

Comment by “Hants”: Yes, garbage disposal in Barbados should be, and in fact is, an easy problem to solve, at least in principle. I, as well as several other scientists and engineers before me, have recommended an integrated waste management system with the following main components and features: incineration; recycling; composting; closing of the Mangrove landfill as soon as possible, and opening of a new site in the parish of St. Lucy. Incineration alone, if the most advanced technology is used, would reduce the total garbage for dumping to a very small amount. A new landfill thus would be much smaller in capacity and/or would last much longer. It seems that the Government of Barbados and its appointees in waste management have turned a deaf ear to all this, i.e., to sound scientific advice and to common sense.

Comment by “God Bless David”: Ricardo Marshall is a government appointee and Project Manager of Governments Solid Waste Management Programme. He was at my public lecture in Queens College on February 22 2006, during which I demonstrated the unsuitability of Greenland as a landfill in considerable detail and beyond any reasonable doubt. Marshall heckled me repeatedly during my presentation by shouting remarks. In the discussion period after the presentation, he went way off-topic, misquoted facts repeatedly, in a glaring attempt to mislead the audience. His rant became so unbearable that the chairman of the meeting, Leonard St. Hill, felt compelled to cut him off.

Marshall delivered a similar performance a few days later when I was debating the Greenland issue with Leslie Barker, retired chief geologist for the Barbados government, on the radio call-in show Brass Tacks. Marshall was on the phone for the entire 2 hour show, monopolizing the phone line that was supposed to be dedicated to all Bajans. [This appeared to be a ploy orchestrated by Government to provide Barker with support: I was not informed ahead of the show that I would effectively have to discuss both Marshall and Barker all the time.] Marshall again proved his ignorance and/or incompetence. Among other things, he did not know and/or denied that there are springs flowing in the Greenland area, even after Edward Cumberbatch, one of the callers, who had worked the area as a soil conservation officer for many years, had set the record straight. These springs had been known for decades.

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In fact, these springs are partly to blame for the fact that Greenland has never been officially opened as a landfill. For example, the Daily Nation reported on June 11 1997 that “A landslip was occurring at Greenland, St. Andrew, at a rate of five centimetres per day as a result of an underground spring.” Marshall also did not know or denied that there are leaks at Greenland. Yet, in the Daily Nation from August 18 1999, then Minister of Health Phillip Goddard admitted that there are leaks at the proposed site, after about a year of Government denials. We are forced to conclude that Marshall is blissfully unaware of some of the most elemental facts pertaining to his job, or he knows but denies them.

All this is a matter of public record, including Marshall’s self-incriminating statements. My lecture at Queens College, including the subsequent discussion period, was taped by a television crew, as was the entire Brass Tacks show from February 26 2006. Both are available on DVD.

Comment by “Environmentalist”: I am not a lawyer and defer a definitive call on this issue to legal experts, but I can say this: I read the relevant legislation and concluded that it is illegal to put a landfill into the Scotland District National Park. Thus, Leonard St. Hill appears to be correct in stating that there have been breaches of law, especially with respect to placing a landfill into a National Park. The government of Barbados could change the law, of course, but to date this has not happened. Furthermore, one would have to wonder which government would even contemplate putting a landfill into a national park. This contradicts the spirit of a national park in the first place, and is unthinkable just about anywhere in the world.

Another comment by “Environmentalist” laments that local experts, most notably at UWI, “do not come out and give their professional opinion”, and “We need more people with backbone who are not afraid to deal with issues of national concern”. I agree. But this is not easy for certain people. I have met several Bajans with valuable advice and knowledge but who are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs. This is one of the reasons why I am speaking up. I cannot be fired by the Barbados government. I do not hold any paid or unpaid position in Barbados.

Comments by “John”and “Andy Knight” deal with the role of the politicians. “John” states that “Bajan politicians don’t do resigning”, and “Andy Knight” states that “someone within the government ought to be held responsible for this fiasco. Barbadians should be up-in-arms over this decision and let the government know in no uncertain terms that no more taxpayers dollars should be wasted on this venture.” I could not agree more.

Take the role played by Liz Thompson. She was the government minister responsible for the implementation of the Greenland landfill fiasco from the beginning in 1995. For several years she pushed the issue at every opportunity, thereby repeatedly maligning dissenting voices (the local press, which was critical at the time, as well as environmentalists such as Richard Goddard), and arguing against sensible alternatives, including incineration. Yet after she lost her ministerial position, she went on public record in the House of Assembly, as quoted in a Daily Nation article dated December 17 2000 entitled “Liz: I never wanted landfill”. She stated: “A country as small as Barbados cannot keep picking up 25 acres of land and turning them into landfills”; and “It was my view then, and it is my view now, that incineration is the method of waste disposal for Barbados, and this is what we should do”.

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Hence, for several years Liz Thompson was misleading the public, speaking out of both sides of her mouth when she pushed Greenland as the best option of garbage disposal. Later in the same article, in an attempt to justify her actions, she is quoted as saying that “…all local and international studies confirmed that Greenland was the best location for the landfill”. This is a blatant falsehood. In all the years that Greenland has been an issue, there has not been one scientist or engineer of any repute who has recommended Greenland as the best location, and most did not recommend Greenland at all. The only comprehensive environmental impact study that was ever done on the Greenland landfill site was by Stanley Associates in 1995, who clearly advised against Greenland, and had included Greenland only because of the demands by the Barbados Government. The various other consulting reports are largely technical (installation of cells, pipes, etc.) and do not deal with the suitability of the site. All this can easily be verified by anyone who bothers to read these reports, most of which can be purchased.

Incineration, which works highly efficiently if the latest technology is implemented, has near zero emissions and produces electricity. It works wonderfully in a number of countries, most notably small island countries. Yet, as recently as February 13 2006 in the Daily Nation, Minister of Health Jerome Walcott is on record as stating that “Incineration is not to be seen as an option in waste management in a small country like Barbados”. In the same article, he cited statistics from other countries on incineration plants, which he doctored in order to support his point of view. His is another example of a government minister who appears to be misleading the public by not knowing and/or not presenting all the relevant facts. This conclusion was reinforced by the chairman of Williams Industries Ralph “Bizzy” Williams in the Daily Nation from February 27 2006. Williams, who had spent about $1 million researching incineration around the world, appears considerably better informed than the minister, outlining various technological advantages and cost alternatives. Williams had made a proposal to Government for an incineration plant, but was just “pooh- poohed”. Williams also stated that it is “madness to use Greenland in St. Andrew as a landfill”.

So, in reply to “John” and “Andy Knight”, I should say that people like Ricardo Marshall, Liz Thompson, and Jerome Walcott should be held responsible, among others. Barbados surely has much more qualified people to run its waste management than Ricardo Marshall. Also, had Liz Thompson shown the integrity that one would expect from a government minister, she should have resigned from her portfolio right at the beginning of the Greenland fiasco, rather than misleading the public for several years by pushing an ill-conceived project that she did not believe in. Today she is a high government minister again, albeit in a different portfolio. Also, Minister Walcott should get himself properly informed and stop misleading the public on matters relating to incineration.

If I had it my way, these people would lose their jobs tomorrow and would never again be allowed to work in or for Government. These people do not work for the benefit of the people. Yet, this is what working in or for the government should be all about.

Hans G. Machel
Professor
University of Alberta

Photos Supplied By Prof. Machel…

Road Damage From Landslide

Ground Water Intrusion

27 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Environment, Politics & Corruption

27 responses to “Greenland Fiasco Dooms Barbados – Professor Machel Replies to Comments

  1. Jerome Hinds

    Let’s be real, is there anything this bunch of BLP politicians do/does surprises us anymore ? And yet, Owen, can get up in Oistins at the recent BLP meeting and announce that at the next general elcetion he would be offering to the electorate the ‘ most competent ‘ bunch of politicians in the Caribbean at the moment. Can you believe among those persons he was speaking of, the list includes Liz Thompson and Jerome Walcott ?

    If ever we were unsure what the term – A law unto onself – means …….A good analogy to use would be the machinations of Owen Arthur and HIS cohorts in the BLP !!!!

  2. God Bless David

    Thanks for the response, Prof Michel… Could you share with us the identity of the site in St Lucy that would, in your opinion, be more suitable for the operation of a landfill? Also, where do you think a large-scale refuse incineration plant would best be located in Barbados?

  3. Rumplestilskin

    Thanks Professor. Well put and very logical. I personally have thought incineration and utilising output for energy and some sort of composite was the most beneficial solution. But I am a layman.

    However, due to the Government’s ‘forging ahead’ with the project, it appears that you, environmental activist (who apparently knows the area well) Richard Goddard, countless older residents who have lived in the area for ages and our own eyes seeing and experiencing the obvious land slippage and constant road loss are all wrong.

    But then, we are wrong about many other things too.

  4. Rumplestilskin

    PS And seeing that those responsible have taken such a long time and seen it fit to invest further taxpayers funds to bring this to fruition (is it 10 years yet?), the planning involved is obviously extensive.

  5. Agent Orange

    Is there any international legal mechanism which can be leveraged to prevent this unfolding environmental nightmare? There must be a legal mind reading this blog who is familiar with the Greenland case who can shine some light on our legal options as citizens of Barbados who care about our environmental future. Professor, you mentioned that there is a cadre of people who have information regarding these matters but are afraid to comment publicly. Can they be persuaded to comment in an anonymous forum like this or would they specific information they provide reveal them to those they fear? I think the time for academic discussion has passed, and people who care should be activating to prevent this folly by any means available, nationally and internationally. We can punish those responsible later, but we must stop them now.

  6. Prof. Machel makes such a compelling case that the Greenland landfill is utter stupidity that it raises the obvious question-

    Why has Government INSISTED on going ahead with it?

    They would only have done so if there was a good reason, surely? I find it hard to believe that it is just arrogant obstinacy. That, having made a bad, ill-informed decision they did not want to lose face by backing down however costly it may prove.

    Is there some factor we have not taken into consideration which would prompt the Arthur Regime to ignore the facts and stick to its guns?

    At one stage it seemed as if environmentalist Richard Goddard was the lone voice against Greenland landfill. He was pilloried and ridiculed for obstructing the project. Being white did not help him, as sentiments of colonial conservatism crept in.

    For Government to have to finally admit that Richard Goddard and all the other well-informed voices were indeed correct will be a bitter pill for Government to swallow. They will do all in their power not to swallow it!

    They will move heaven and earth (at taxpayers’ expense) to prove that Greenland will work as a landfill. Later they will introduce the legislation needed for incinerating bagasse for energy generation, and, lo and behold, it will also work for garbage!

    This type of blatant obduracy by a ruling party should be enough in a two-party democracy for it to lose the next election -if only the electorate had faith in the alternative.

  7. John

    Of interest in the cross section shown is the notation that “Water can rise to this level”.

    The difference in height between the top of the cliff and the landfill is about 200 metres.

    This translates into a pressure in excess of 250 pounds per square foot.

    It seems an impossible task to come up with a method of lining the bottom to resist this pressure, unless the intention is to have an underwater landfill.

    Even so, there will be a constant overflow of water which will be contaminated by the garbage and will need to be disposed of.

    Man … oh man!!

    Why not use the water out of the springs to address the demand which currently exceeds supply. Is it too small an amount to consider, or is it that we just don’t know how much is there?

    Before we go and plonk a landfill over the springs, maybe it would be worthwhile knowing just how much water we are giving up.

  8. Jerome Hinds

    History soon to made – first land induced tsunami !!!! – GREENLAND ( UNFINISHED) landfill……2007 ?????

  9. Jerome Hinds

    A happy 2007 to all fellow BFP bloggers and to BFP Admin. staff. Let us all in 2007 – regardless of political affiliation – work and express comments freely for the good of BIM ( Best Island Made ).

  10. Hants

    Same to you Jerome and all fellow bloggers and BFP Admin. staff.

  11. Justasking

    There must have been and EIA done for the Greenland landfill. Was/is it still available to the public or restricted like the EIA done for the waterpark at Graemehall?

    Also if there was an EIA there should also be a document with the response of the governments regulatory agencies. It would be ineteresting to see exactly what they had to say. My recollection from reports in the media was that all professional opinion (government and private) was against the siting of the landfilll at Greenland.

    So who exactly recommened Greenland?The PM is quoted as saying that the professional recommendation was for locating at Greenland.

    As for legal recourse, again, Mr. L.St Hill said that the correct process was not followed according to law.

  12. silent observer

    bystander

    There is a $3 billion investment by Sandy Lane which is being held up by the Mangrove landfill. The article is available on the internet.

    This immediately brings to mind a saying, something about “might” being stronger than “right”?

  13. Rumplestilskin

    Silent,

    But that does not explain the refusal to implement an incineration plant, which would also result in the relocation of the garbage.

    Why Greenland is the question.

    I also am convinced that Government is pressing ahead because of the water under the bridge, they do not want to admit their massive mistake, at least not before the next election.

  14. Rumplestilskin

    PS It also seems (and I mean seems) to me that St.Lucy is also earmarked as a potential site for luxury development, thus the resistance to put incinerator etc there.

  15. silent observer

    Rumplestilskin

    “I also am convinced that Government is pressing ahead because of the water under the bridge, they do not want to admit their massive mistake, at least not before the next election.”

    I am not prepared to accept that a government could be so stupid and short-sighted and would risk destroying the Country just to save face. There must be another reason which could make some sort of sense.

  16. oh yes they can

    hard to believe but its not a fairy tale!!!

    1994 election—Mangrove not managed properly—known as Mount Stinkeroo—affecting possibility of Sandy Lane Hotel redevelopment not to mention many many complaints from residents with respect to health

    David Simmons riding of St Thomas and BLP decision as election committment, to close mangrove. Not a bad committment!!!

    Once the BLP comes to power, how do you implement your promise?

    Do you behave as true leaders and make the most judicious decision based on environmental and economic studies that serve the long term interest of all Barbadians or do you pander to the NIMBY ( not in my backyard )philosophy and choose the least densley populated ( with fewest votes ) and most dangerous and sensitive environmental area on the island to place a dump (a proposed National Park )

    Yes thats what happened!!!—damn the topedoes and damn the cost and damn the environmental catastrophe!!! This was a collective decision by a group of lemmings who couldn’t collectively in their lifetime make a tenth of the publics money they have pissed away on Greenland alone ( except for “tiefing” of course )

    where has David Simmons gone?

    Oh yes -now Chief Justice of he Court of Appeal—moved over to the judicial independent? arm of the BLP to protect the Kingsland retirement fund and watch over those other judges to make sure they do the right thing?

    Oh yes folks its all too sad and frightening to consider but its all very real!!!

    yes they can be that arrogant, stupid and vindictive!!!

    because its not their money

  17. John

    The decision in the Court of Appeal regarding Greenland can be found in the Case Law section of the Town and Country Planning site.

    Other cases are also present.

    http://www.townplanning.gov.bb/content.aspx?c=45

  18. Surely voters will be more likely to support an administration that is big enough to admit an error was made, and correct it before it is too late?

    Surely voters will not be stupid enough to vote for an administration that is so bullheaded it goes ahead willfully ignoring the facts, at our expense?

    What stage has the obvious incineration alternative reached?

  19. You’d be surprised how often I see situations similar to this in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) — landfills (or other large projects, for that matter, such as Santo Domingo’s metro) that seemingly should not go forward if a proper EIA and/or soil and/or hydrological study is done prior to work commencing and existing planning and land-use rules followed. And too often once a government discovers the mess it has created, it goes to great lengths to either “fix” it or hide the problems. Sadly, it is not at all unique to Barbados.

    And I’ve also seen what “yes they can” above is referring to — the most logical disposal site, based on environmental studies and the economics of logistics and other factors, can be nixed by a political decision (not to upset certain voters that might have to a landfill near their homes, even though a well managed fill need not be an eyesore or stinker) or by hidden economic interests (someone powerful or influential has other plans for developing the same real estate).

    And I’d be careful before rushing to embrace the incineration alternative. I wouldn’t rule it out automatically, but take with a large grain of salt the claims made by its proponents (which are usually based on experience in Europe and North America, NOT on actual experience in LAC nations). Yes, incineration can be made safe and economical, but the record in LAC on that point so far is not encouraging. You need to certain that its emissions will be well controlled and monitored, and proper (secure) disposal be provided for the ashes, which sometimes can contain significant levels of toxics.

    Do you have confidence in Bajan officials to keep close watch on the environmental performance of a large incinerator and hold the operator accountable? To properly dispose of the ash? I don’t live in Barbados and few statistics about environmental management in your country at my disposal to begin to assess what the answer to that might be, but from what I have been reading here, I cannot help but have doubts….

    Why does no one discuss waste reduction, reuse and recycling options combined with a couple of mini-fills in other locales? Is this totally out of the question for Barbados? Just curious.

    Regards,
    Keith R

  20. Could Prof Machel be wrong in his condemnation of Greenland for a landfill?

    An acquaintance of mine spoke recently to a geologist until recently employed by Government who is convinced that Prof. Machel doesn’t know what he is talking about. Our Bajan geologist knows the Greenland area intimately and claims the slippage there is being exaggerated.

    “Experts” often disagree, and it appears Government is choosing to go along with the advice they want to hear, ignoring what they don’t.

    P.S. Our geologist fully agrees that an incinerator approach is the only longterm answer as soon as remaining problems of disposing of toxins such as Dioxin (?) are sorted out. Is it true that such dangers still remain?

  21. John

    naive

    I believe the geologist you may be speaking of debated Prof Machel on a call in programme after Prof Machel gave his lecture at QC back in February, 2006.

    I listened to the two and I would go with what Prof Machel is saying with regard to the geology. It fitted the evidence I see in the area. The geologist I heard contradicted himself on the presence of springs in the area …. and yet, those springs are there!!

    Incineration I know little about and would expect some serious investigations are needed, but then it is more than 12 years ago that we reached this fork in the road and more than 23 since the fork was pointed out. By now Government should be able to point to studies it has done but I have heard of none.

    We are still at the fork, idling!!

  22. John-
    “Idling ” wastefully at our expense.
    Forked again!

  23. Hans G. Machel

    Thanks to all of you for these interesting contributions. I plan to wait until next weekend and then formulate a second reply to the latest comments. Stay tuned for “Greenland Fiasco Dooms Barbados – Part 3 of Trilogy”.

  24. John

    naive

    Yep, I agree.

    The politicians have really forked up this country.

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  26. Alan Irureta

    Having lived in third worlds countries (3rdWC) all of my life, this Greensland situation in Barbados is typical of what 3rdWC politcians do all the time. It’s not surprising one bit. Afterall, they are only interested in their own political ajenda and lining their pockets with $$$$ where possible. The will of the people is the last thing in their small minds. Even the best scientists such as Professor Machel with sound technical explanations cannot convince such arrogant, blind, misguided individuals.

    When geologists try to explain why a road slides down a mountain or a dam ruptures, most of the time it can be blamed on a geological fault. However, most of the time the real fault lies in the fact that the politicians never pay attention to the geologist in the first place when he tries to convince them not to build the road or the dam where they want to be built them.

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