This is the last article of a three-part series on the Greenland Dump Fiasco by University of Alberta Professor Hans G. Machel.
Barbados Free Press publishes today’s third article in the series exactly as Professor Machel sent it to us, with not one word changed – with the exception of the word “vain” in paragraph 13 which was originally misspelled as “vein”. For readability, we have divided some of the larger sections into paragraphs – specifically inserting the breaks now seen after paragraphs 1, 8, 11, and 17. Similarly, where bold and other text styles appear, this was done by Barbados Free Press – again to enhance readability.
We’re not lawyers here at BFP, but it is obvious to all that by naming names, Professor Machel runs the risk of being sued under the absurd libel laws of Barbados. It seems to us that the articles are an indication of Professor Machel’s respect and love for the people of Barbados and for the island that is our country. He could have kept silent, but for the sake of Barbados chooses not to. For that, Professor Machel has our admiration and respect.
Looks like we made a cut and paste error, folks. Prof. Machel has alerted us, so we changed the article as follows…
CHANGED BY CLIVERTON AS PER REQUEST OF PROF. MACHEL
Greenland Fiasco – Third part of Trilogy
This is my third and last article in the Barbados Free Press on the Greenland landfill issue, following the ones from December 20 and 31 2006. I will answer comments by readers again. In doing so, my major objectives are (1) to show the criteria that a sanitary landfill must fulfill, and that Greenland fails most of them; (2) to lay out the reasons for a new landfill site in St. Lucy as well as for incineration; and (3) to expose the misleading tactics that have been used by the Government of Barbados in its efforts to push Greenland and to exclude incineration.
From now on the general public will have access to this information, rather than just a select few. It is high time, if not overdue, that this information is available to all the people of Barbados.
Now the ball is in your court. YOU, Barbadians, have to see this through. YOU have to stop Greenland from becoming a landfill site. I cannot do this for you. I have done whatever I could to: popularize the Greenland fiasco both within and beyond the island’s borders; point out the main geologic, environmental, and economic problems; and make constructive suggestions.
I have been engaged in the Greenland debate for several years. I have done this because I love Barbados and Barbadians, and because I feel a moral obligation. I did not get involved for money, as I am not being paid for this work. Nor do I have any financial interests in the island (such as property), nor do I have any axe to grind. The last point may not sound true when I talk about some of the key players later on, who have maligned and insulted me personally. But this has happened only within the last year or so, long after I started writing articles and giving public presentations about Greenland. Hence, these incidents are not my motivation.
Barbados is plagued by many problems, such as certain forms of crime, often inadequate water supply, wage inequities, out-of-control spiraling property values, the lack of an effective sewer system, serious underfunding of hospitals, dilapidated roads, and whatever else is featured in the media on a daily basis. I have not commented on any of these issues in public. And why should I? It is up to Bajans to solve Bajan problems. Besides, no country is without problems, and overall Barbados is doing remarkably well.
But the Greenland issue is different. This is a problem Bajans appear to be incapable of solving. I, as other foreign experts before me (most notably from the Canadian companies Stanley Associates and Burnside), was called upon to provide an expert opinion. I answered the call because I have expertise that was badly needed, including some that neither of these companies have, and because it became increasingly clear in the late 1990s that Government – on this issue – pushes a hidden agenda rather than serving the people. Another reason I answered the call is that I care deeply for the environment and for people. I just cannot sit idly by and watch how a small group of people does immeasurable damage to Barbados, that is, to the environment, to the people’s welfare, and to the economy by running up huge and ever increasing costs.
Until I started this trilogy on December 20 2006, I have refrained from pointing fingers, hoping that those orchestrating the Greenland fiasco will come to their senses, admit their mistakes, and reverse course. Alas, this has not happened. When work on the so-called retrofit of the site began in mid December 2006, I abandoned being “Mr. Nice Guy” and started naming names. I do not enjoy this part, but Government’s intransigence (or – as Bizzy Williams so aptly put it – “madness”) forces my hand. So far the people in charge of the fiasco are staying their course, come hell or high water. Rest assured that high water will come, much sooner than these people wish. Rest assured also that hell will come, especially for these people, only a little later. Unless they do change course after all.
Environmental Impact Assessment
Comment by ‘Justasking’: Is there an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) done and available on Greenland?
The answer is yes to both questions. There were two EIAs.
The only formal EIA was furnished by Stanley Associates in 1995 as part of consulting work for the Government. After surveying the entire island, Stanley’s EIA team, which was formed in April 1995, furnished their Phase 1 report. This report identified only three sites as a potential site for the new landfill. None of them was Greenland. Government did not like that and forced Stanley to revise its findings to include Greenland. By all appearances, Government had made up its mind about Greenland even before Stanley’s EIA. Stanley’s Phase 2 report then did include Greenland but ranked it dead-last of the remaining options. In total some 17 sites were evaluated. Stanley’s report(s) could be purchased, and several copies are in private hands.
There was an earlier study produced by Stanley, called Technical Addendum 6A. It did raise Greenland as an alternative and favorable site. Hence, in all fairness, we have to concede that before the Phase 1 and Phase 2 reports Government was made to believe that Greenland is a viable option. One reason was that the site is in clay geology, and therefore would not affect underlying groundwater resources. Additionally, there is ample material for sanitary landfill cover, and it was an already disturbed site, i.e., a quarry. Another factor considered favorable is the low population density on the area. However, the engineers who made these assessments ignored several important aspects.
The most glaring oversight was that they did not consider or vastly underestimated the geologic instability of the area. While a clay base is favorable in many other geologic situations, in the Greenland area this decidedly is not the case because here the clay makes for instability rather than stability. But this and other oversights in Technical Addendum 6A were duly corrected by the EIA team in Stanley. Once their Phase 1 and Phase 2 reports were finished in 1995, Government no longer had a technical justification to push Greenland as the best location for a landfill.
The only other EIA on Greenland was done by me at the request of the Scotland District Association, informally and without pay. This report is dated January 18 2006. It was sent to the Barbadian press and the InterAmerican Development Bank, and found its way to Government. You can get it from me by e-mail. One part of my report deals with the criteria that a landfill site must fulfill (more about this below), other parts deal with the major shortcomings of the plans by Burnside for retrofitting the Greenland site, as well as the likely economic penalties when disaster strikes. Burnside once again did not consider the geologic instability of the area. This is the main reason why the retrofit will be in vain. Nature will tear up whatever they install at Greenland within a fairly short time, most probably within less than 20 years.
Funding for the original construction of the Greenland site came from the Inter American Development Bank (IADB). In fact, it was the IADB that required Government to have an EIA done in 1995 in order to secure funding for the project. While that EIA complied with then-current standards, today’s standards for EIAs in virtually all countries and jurisdictions around the world are more stringent. For example, modern EIAs typically include an assessment of cumulative effects, and a project like a sanitary landfill would now require an ecological and human health risk assessment, as well as full and meaningful public consultation (for example in the form of public hearings, but not necessarily limited to this). Cumulative effects are those effects that stem from the project under consideration in combination with other existing, current or anticipated future projects within the same area, as well as accessory components of the project such as transport of the waste.
For example, what are the effects of hundreds of 40-ton garbage trucks barreling up and down the Charles Duncan O’Neil Highway, which services the Greenland site? This highway already is in a state of heavy deterioration, with countless long cracks and waves that grow longer and deeper every year, especially in a 1 km-long stretch from near the bottom of Farley Hill to Nature Walk Tours, where the pavement has already been patched up repeatedly over the least few years (see picture, taken in early January 2007). Once those heavy garbage trucks are coming every day, the pavement in this stretch will soon go to pots, the highway will have to be closed and rebuilt, which will run into the millions of dollars. And what will Government do with the garbage once the highway is closed?
This brings me to the concept of “full-costs accounting”. This is an analysis of not only the project costs, but also of the long-term maintenance costs (which would be stupendous in the case of Greenland), as well as the social costs, which may include, for example, changes in tourist attitudes toward the Scotland District and ensuing lost revenues. There also must be a contingency plan in case something goes wrong.
None of the above has been done for the Greenland project to this day. Yet now Government is seeking funding from the IADB for the retrofit of the site. The IADB must be made aware of the importance of applying contemporary environmental and risk assessment concepts and methodology to the decision on whether to support the currently proposed undertaking. The people of Barbados deserve nothing less.
Who recommended Greenland?
Justasking asked: “Who exactly recommended Greenland”?
My answer is: after Stanley’s Phase 1 and Phase 2 reports were released in 1995, nobody who counts. That is, nobody of any repute, nobody with the technical know-how entitled to make a professional judgement, and nobody who is impartial to BLP politics.
I know of only one geologist who recommended Greenland, and that is Leslie Barker, former chief geologist for the Barbados government until his retirement. He has technical know-how, but he is and was not impartial. His statements about the Greenland site are tainted by partisan (read: BLP) politics. The opinions of all government-external and in part much higher qualified experts are being ignored by Government.
The “Foreign Expert Syndrome”
Comment by “naive”: “Could Prof Machel be wrong in his condemnation of Greenland as a landfill”? And then “naive” refers to a “geologist until recently employed by government who is convinced that Prof. Machel doesn’t know what he is talking about”.
This government geologist is Leslie Barker. When Barker says what he says about me, you hear a mixture of professional envy and BLP propaganda. I am a university professor with an international reputation, he is not. I have published some 100 scientific papers in a variety of international journals, he has not. I wrote a book about the geology of Barbados that is sold in the island, and which is used in several secondary schools, he has not. (In other words: I treaded on his turf.) I can speak my mind without government interference, he cannot.
This last point is a sign of the “Foreign Expert Syndrome”. Last year both he and Minister Jerome Walcott have displayed a sterling example of this syndrome, which often is part of Bajan politics. Foreign experts are consulted on many things, not just landfills. When a foreign expert happens to come up with something that supports what government wants to do and hear, this expert is praised and paraded around. If, however, a foreign expert comes up with something that contravenes government’s plans, this expert is maligned and ridiculed. The latter has happened to me. Minister Walcott is on record at delivering a lengthy rant against me in the House of Assembly in February 2006, broadcast over national radio no less, telling Bajans in no unmistaken terms that I do not know what I am talking about. In fact, he used much more insulting language. His rant was rather embarrassing, not for me, but for him.
Contrast this with the conduct of private investors and contractors. For example, The Nation News reported on June 02 2006 about the water reservoir being built at Farmers for the Apes Hill, St., James, golf course. The money for this project is footed by C.O. Williams and other private investors. The project was held up after a few weeks of work because an unnamed geologist from a US-based company changed the first set of plans, even though it had received permission from Town and Country Planning. This geologist (rightly) said that the reservoir would leak, if the approved plan were followed. So he pushed the project further up the road, and with it the costs by a very considerable amount. We hear of no denials of the geologic problems by C.O. Williams and his financial backers. They know how to protect their investment, and how to avoid multimillion dollar laws suits. In the case of Greenland, however, Government is behind the project, and Government ignores the advice of numerous scientists and engineers over more than a decade. One reason is that Government is not accountable. Another is that those in charge must have another, hidden agenda. (More about that later).
click for large
Where in Barbados should a new landfill be located?
Comment by “God Bless David”: Where should the new landfill be located in St. Lucy?
The new site should fulfill as many of the relevant criteria as possible. These criteria can be formulated in different ways. For the sake of this discussion, I am listing 13 criteria that are grouped into 7 categories. Accordingly, any sanitary landfill site should
1. be geologically and/or hydrogeologically sound (these two aspects are interrelated), which means
1a – the geologic substrate should be stable (= no active faults, no plasticity)
1b – the geologic substrate should be homogeneous and have low hydraulic conductivity (= low permeability)
1c – the cells should be located well above the permanent ground water table
2. be located in a setting that is not susceptible to frequent (annual) excessive rainfall and/or flash-flooding
3. be located in a setting that is not susceptible to episodic (2 – 5 per 100 years) potentially catastrophic natural forces, such as
3c volcanic eruptions,
3d earthquakes, or
4. have adequate infrastructure (roads, power supply, etc.)
5. be located in an area of relatively sparse population
6. not be located in areas of special protection, such as natural parks and cultural heritage sites
7. be sociopolitically acceptable.
A site fulfilling all criteria would be “ideal”. This, of course, is exceedingly rare. But even if some of these criteria are not met, or only partially, a site may well be “suitable”. For example, if the groundwater table is higher than the base of the landfill, and the flux of groundwater is relatively low, adequate drainage can be installed and maintained at a reasonable cost, (note: these are two different aspects), rendering the site “suitable”. In general, adequate technical measures can be undertaken to control many of these problems. This, however, is not possible at Greenland over any extended period of time, certainly not at any reasonable expense. This is because most of the natural perils that Greenland is facing cannot be influenced by human intervention, or only in the short term, or only at a stupendous economic penalty.
Failing just one of the above criteria can be enough to render a site “unsuitable”. An example would be that a site is crossed by a major active fault line, or that it is located next to an active volcano.
Generally, I deem a site that fails more than 2 of the above categories as unsuitable. Greenland fails in 5 of the 7 categories above, that is, parts or all of 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7.
Most Bajans already know this in one form or another. These are the same reasons that led to the overwhelming public opposition to a landfill at Greenland (failing criteria 7), which Government chooses to ignore.
The garbage at Greenland will not stay put. Solid waste will periodically get flushed out and wind up in the sea, just as large masses of mud wind up as huge plumes in the sea off Long Pond and Green Pond every year during flash floods. Of course, garbage at Greenland would not get flushed out annually, but certainly during the excessive rainfalls that are recorded to occur about every 15 years (there were six such events in the last century). You may as well dump all that garbage into the sea right away. And, if the wind and currents are ‘right’, at least some of the trash will wash up on the west and even the south coasts. In addition, toxic leachate will leak out more or less permanently because the liners will not hold, contaminating the groundwater and surface run-off, and thereby all agricultural land that is in the flow path. Then there are the huge costs for episodic cleanups and reconstruction, let alone law suits that probably would follow.
Applying the above criteria to the whole island of Barbados, a fairly large area in St.Lucy appears as the only viable option for a new landfill (see map: the red boxes outline the area. Click On Map for Full Size). Specifically, the area has the following characteristics:
1a – it is geologically stable
1c – almost all of the area in the large box is well above the permanent ground water table, while a freshwater lens is present in the lower parts of the area in the smaller box
2 – average annual rainfall in the area is the lowest in Barbados, together with the southernmost part of the island
3 – of all possible natural disasters, only hurricanes could affect this area [this is unavoidable]
4 – the area is serviced by a good road system, i.e., Hwy 2A and its northern extensions beyond the St. Lucy Parish Church
5 – the area is sparsely populated
6 – the area is outside of the National Park
7 – public acceptance can be achieved
As for criteria 7, the “not-in-my-backyard” argument will surely be raised by some St. Lucy residents. This is entirely understandable. But I would argue that they can be convinced, if a proper campaign is run to demonstrate that the area(s) outlined here is (are) the only viable option for the new landfill in Barbados. All other areas have too much rain, too high a groundwater table, too many residents, are geologically unstable, or are in the National Park, or any combination thereof. Furthermore, the residents in St Lucy must understand that they cannot close themselves off the garbage problem of the island. Somebody has to bite the bullet. As Bajans, the residents of St. Lucy have social responsibility to accept the new island landfill.
Another important aspect that should quench any opposition to a site in St. Lucy is that the new landfill would not be another “Mount Stinkeroo”, if properly managed. If the incinerator is built that the island so badly needs, the new landfill would be next to odorless. The garbage delivered would be but a fraction in volume of the total garbage produced (the bulk is burnt up), and whatever is left is charred and melted remains that are almost inert.
In order to recommend a specific location within the red-boxed areas shown, one would have to do an on-the-ground evaluation of the various options. This has not been done but can be done with relative ease. My first preference would be the larger of the two red boxed areas, because there is essentially no permanent groundwater, while the smaller boxed area that reaches the west coast has a permanent groundwater lens.
Within the larger boxed area, my first preference would be to investigate the two locations shown in orange colors. Geologists call them “erosional windows”, which are holes in the top layer of coral rock. At the bottoms of these holes the underlying older rocks are exposed, which are similar to the clays in the Scotland District. Imagine these two erosional windows like irregularly shaped swimming pools that have an impermeable base but highly permeable side walls with lots of holes. It is relatively easy to seal these holes with technology that has been developed by petroleum reservoir engineers and civil engineers over the last 40 years or so. Any claim that the coral rock cannot be sealed, which has been made by certain Government people, is utter nonsense. A variety of materials (including Portland cement, slurry walls, geomembranes, and waxes) can be used effectively to provide an impermeable barrier around the margins of a potential landfill, be it a natural erosional window or a quarry. Then a liner can be placed, and the incinerated remains of garbage be placed into the depression.
At present, the only caveat to this scenario is that the erosional windows must be properly surveyed first. Perhaps they hold some surprises, such as a shallow natural oil seep or an underlying fault line, which may render them less than suitable. If so, one would have to assess whether the problem can be fixed, or a quarry nearby could be excavated.
The smaller red boxed area is less suitable because of the groundwater. But relatively shallow excavations could be kept above the groundwater table, while sealing of the surrounding coral rock would be done all the same. All other criteria are still favorable. Thus, one alternative offers itself immediately: the large open quarry next to the Arawak cement plant.
Lastly in this context, land ownership has to be addressed. I do not know what is public and what is privately owned land. But there is a legal procedure to make this work. Government can acquire land and relocate property owners, if private land is needed for public use. Whatever private land may be needed, I would argue that the owners should be handsomely compensated. After all, they would provide a service to all Barbadians.
Comment by “God Bless David”: Where should a large-scale incineration plant be located?
The incineration plant should be located next to the Arawak Cement factory for several reasons. One reason is that transportation distance of the remaining charred garbage to the landfill would be minimized. Other reasons are listed in the next answer.
Comment by “Keith R”: “Do you have any confidence in Bajan officials to keep close watch of the environmental performance of a larger incinerator and hold the operator accountable”?
My answer is: put the operation of the incinerator into the right hands.
My first choice is Bizzy Williams. I once participated in a meeting where he explained his research and economic outlook on incineration. He struck me as man of sharp intellect, very high integrity, and with a caring attitude toward people and the environment. Give him the job, and Bajans will be well served.
Williams is an engineer by training and has researched the subject better than anyone else in the island. He offered Government to build an incinerator in partnership with one of the largest companies in the world that builds and operates incinerators, some of which Williams visited at his own company’s expense. He only asked Government to pass anti-dumping legislation with sharp teeth and heavy fines for illegal dumping to guarantee that all the garbage would be delivered to the plant. The plant would then feed its output – electricity – into the power grid and be paid for the power at the same price that the Barbados Light & Power company sells electricity, less a fee of 15% that would go to the BL&P for transmitting the power and collecting the money. Some of this electricity would then be used to desalinate water that would be sold to the Barbados Water Authority. This revenue from the sale of electricity and water would be used to help pay for the incinerator. Williams also wanted a guarantee that he could use the disused quarry at the cement plant as landfill for the residue from the incinerator.
Williams’ plans were summarily turned down by Government. This appears incomprehensible from any rational point of view.
Why has Government insisted on Greenland?
Comment by “bystander”: “Why has Government INSISTED on going ahead” with this? And, “Is there some factor we have not taken into consideration?”
Of course there is. As Douglas Leopold Phillips so aptly put it in the Weekend Nation of Jan 05 2007: “It is clear that the economic self-interest of those who occupy power is influencing their political decisions”. You have to go no further than the issue that won the 2006 “Piggies at the Trough” award.
I have no first hand knowledge of the economic interests involved specifically in the Greenland issue, but I heard many stories. Some of these appear entirely plausible, simply because there just is no technical rationale to justify a landfill at Greenland. There is talk of certain politicians receiving healthy ‘commissions’, of luxury real estate developments planned for St. Lucy, of Light and Power not wanting another supplier of electricity. If somebody takes the time to dig, and then summons the courage to speak out, we would surely know the factors that “we have not taken into consideration”, as well as the people who stand to profit or already have profited.
How to stop the Greenland landfill development
Comments by “Agent Orange”, “…..we must stop them now”, what are the “legal options”?
There are three ways to stop the Greenland landfill from becoming operational. Each of these options could suffice to topple the Greenland landfill project. In concert they almost certainly would.
1. Court Action: Richard Goddard, on behalf of the Scotland District Association, took the Barbados Government to Court over Greenland in 1995. The case was dismissed on a technicality only. It probably could be revived via an appeal, although it takes a hefty sum of money to do so. Check the Court of Appeal regarding Greenland in the Case Law section of the Town and Country Planning site, as “John” suggested, or contact Goddard directly. The gist of this court case was that putting a landfill into the National Park is illegal, just as Leonard St. Hill has pointed out repeatedly. If an appeal is not possible on legal grounds, or if it is too expensive, a new court case could be started.
2. Starve the project of funding: It is my understanding that the Barbados Government is so highly in debt that it cannot finance the Greenland retrofit (just as it could not finance the first excavations some 10 years ago). Government has applied to the Inter American Development Bank for funding. If the ‘right’ people at the IADB get to know what game Government is playing, and how the money is wasted, the bank most probably would withhold any further funding. Also, I suspect that the IADB can be convinced that a new formal EIA of the Greenland site must be furnished. So, write to the IADB. Phone them. Lobby them. Do whatever it takes to get their ear.
3. Get rid of the politicians and bureaucrats who orchestrate and have orchestrated the Greenland fiasco.
First and foremost: Liz Thompson. As I have pointed out in my last article in BFP on December 31 2006, this person should not be in government. Not only is she a notorious liar, she ignored or trampled each and every environmental concern relating to the Greenland issue. She has been a chief driving force that made the Greenland landfill issue the fiasco it is today.
By her own admission, Liz Thompson has lied to general public for several years as then-Minister of Health, when she was responsible for implementation of the Greenland landfill development. Her conduct is immoral and unethical. Also, I am pretty certain that her conduct constitutes a violation of her ministerial oath. In most countries, this alone would be grounds enough for dismissal. Yet, in Barbados she is a senior government minister. Not only that, she now is minster for – of all things – the environment. Given her track record on Greenland, having Liz Thompson run the Department for Environment is like the proverbial fox guarding the chicken coop.
Liz Thompson is also coward, and totally untrustworthy. Not once, as far as I know, has she apologized for her continued lying about Greenland, which is the least she owes to Barbadians. Even when finally fessing up, she lied again (Daily Nation article dated December 17 2000), when claiming that “…all local and international studies confirmed that Greenland was the best location for the landfill”. Just when exactly are we to know when she speaks the truth? I, for one, do not believe a word she says.
It is incomprehensible to me how Bajans tolerate a person such as Liz Thompson in Government, let alone as a minister.
Ricardo Marshall, as I have pointed out before, is ignorant and incompetent in the position he presently holds. He has proven this numerous times, both in the printed media and in his appearances at my public presentation and on Brass Tacks in February 2006. As an example, I refer to my lengthy article “Nothing good about Greenland”, which appeared in the Sunday Sun on February 27 2005. In this article I show, point by point, that Marshall does not understand the issue(s) at hand. Marshall needs to be replaced.
Then there is the current Minister of Health Jerome Walcott. He has come out dead-set against incineration, which makes no sense. But I have the impression that he is a smart man. He is clearly following and pushing Government’s course that began long before he was in Government. (This also tells you that there are forces in Government pushing Greenland that I am not naming here, and that date back to at least 1995). I would hope that, one day, Mr. Walcott can liberate himself from the corrupted thinking that permeates the BLP’s party elite. I am pretty sure that he realizes the folly of the Greenland endeavor, and that incineration along with a smaller landfill outside of the Scotland District National Park is the way to go. If he manages to rise above partisan politics, Bajans just might get a garbage incinerator after all. Or when a new person takes over the Health portfolio.
In conclusion, I wish to repeat the final paragraph of my article “Nothing good about Greenland” from February 27 2005:
“I respectfully suggest that the Government of Barbados immediately abandons its plans to use Greenland as a waste disposal site. The government followed ill advice to build this site. This was a great mistake. But it would be a colossal mistake to go any further. The government should cut its losses and move on. Admitting that one has made a mistake is painful, but it can be a virtue. I would view it a sign of strength and wisdom, if the government abandons Greenland as a waste disposal site and moves to sensible alternatives, such as another site that actually is suitable (such sites do exist elsewhere in the island, although there is no “perfect” site), in tandem with incineration of a part of the garbage. The people of Barbados would be forever grateful, rather than be burdened with an ongoing disaster and costs that will mount with time.”
I still stand by these words. But since the time I wrote them, my patience has run out with those whose actions are driven by motives other than serving the people of Barbados.
Professor Hans G. Machel
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
University of Alberta, Canada