Seven days before the general election, Dr. Karl Dawson stood outside the House of Assembly to protest burning at the Pockwood Pond dump that had been sending clouds of acrid smoke over West End.
Now, he is in a position to do something about the problem.
Last week, Dr. Dawson — now the First District representative and junior minister for agriculture and fisheries — visited the dumpsite and defunct incinerator with newly appointed Health and Social Development Minister Vincent Wheatley, who has responsibility for solid waste.
During the May 2 visit, the pair met with the staff at the incinerator and dumpsite, as well as Department of Waste Management Manager Neville Allen and Assistant Manager Anselm Myers, according to a press release issued last Thursday.
“Discussions were held on the best strategy for ensuring that persons do not have access to the area after it is closed as it was disclosed that most of the fires started at the site are intentional,” the press release stated.
That claim, however, contradicts previous government reports that the fires typically start from spontaneous combustion caused by overheated trash, and the release did not explain who is responsible for starting the fires and why.
The ministers also discussed the removal of derelict vehicles and other equipment from the territory, and they “explored different pathways” to repairing the defunct incinerator, the release added.
Fires have been an ongoing problem at the landfill for years, especially during periods of increased use while the trash incinerator has been shut down due to fires and other issues.
Most recently, the incinerator has been non-operational for more than a year following a fire on Feb. 14, 2022. At the time, then-Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone said it would likely be offline for two to four months. The DWM later upped that estimate to seven months, a target that passed last September.
Previously, a fire in November 2018 also left the incinerator inoperable for more than a year. Even after a new control panel was installed in January 2020 and the facility resumed operations, it continued to suffer failures that left it shuttered for weeks at a time.
Starting in March 2021, for instance, the plant shut down for about six weeks because of a faulty hydraulic pump, during which time residents complained about fires and smoke frequently rising from the landfill behind it.
The incinerator also had been operating without a pollution-control scrubber, even though in 2015 the previous government paid a $500,000 down payment for one to the Virginia-based Consutech Systems LLC, which manufactured the incinerator.
Last week, Mr. Wheatley, who was appointed health and social development minister for the first time after the April 24 general election, acknowledged that waste management has been a longstanding issue across successive administrations. The new government, he added, must address the issue.
“We want to be seen early on giving the incinerator and dumpsite their due attention,” he said. “I want to come and get a fresh look at what the current reality is, and this here is not sustainable going forward. So we must look at the possible solution and the possible direction that we want to take waste management into.”
Dr. Dawson stressed the particular urgency of the problem for people in his First District.
“The impact is great for us, and we intend to do our part in the district,” he said. “This includes leading the way in recycling efforts and certain efforts to ensure there is less waste coming to any landfill that we create because we realise the solution is not simply to build better incinerators but to have less waste. It calls for a mind shift, and we want to lead that shift in the VI.”
The press release, however, did not include a timeline for repairing the incinerator or mention any other plans for the way forward with the dumpsite.