Yet again, a fire has shut down the Pockwood Pond incinerator.
Yet again, the resulting trash buildup will inevitably cause fires at the nearby landfill, and toxic smoke will blow across West End and as far away as St. John and St. Thomas.
Government officials have estimated the repair timeframe at two to four months. But given the struggles to repair the incinerator after previous breakdowns, we suspect the process could take much longer than that.
This situation, which has occurred repeatedly for years, is inexcusable, and it highlights successive governments’ longstanding failure to reform the territory’s solid waste system from the ground up.
Even when the existing incinerator is operational, it is not optimal: It lacks a pollution-control scrubber that still hasn’t been installed despite government paying the manufacturer a $500,000 deposit in 2015.
In recent years, leaders have started promising to purchase a new incinerator through the Recovery and Development Agency. This is an excellent idea. Clearly, a new facility is urgently needed, and the RDA uses sound tendering methods that would help ensure that taxpayers get a good product for a reasonable price this time around.
Also urgently needed is the formal adoption and immediate implementation of the National Waste Management Strategy that was aired last year for public consultations.
The document includes many sound recommendations: a sorting facility for trash; recycling programmes; comprehensive legislative reforms; properly constructed landfills; a better system for handling derelict vehicles and boats; large-scale composting; door-to-door trash pickup; a new incinerator, and many others.
But such recommendations have been around for years. The new strategy, in fact, is largely a rehash of a 2013 plan that was largely ignored.
A big part of the problem, we suspect, is money. As with other hurricane-recovery projects, the new incinerator and related efforts are expensive, and funding is in short supply as the current and former governments have refused to access the United Kingdom’s offer of a £300 million recovery loan guarantee.
So now we have to ask: What is the way forward, and how will it be funded?
Surely, everyone can agree that the territory must not continue to poison residents and visitors with toxic trash smoke. Nor can the government afford a costly class-action lawsuit by residents who may rightly insist on enforcing their constitutional right to a healthy environment.
Moving forward, leaders must put top priority on sourcing a new incinerator and implementing the waste strategy as soon as possible.
If this means sourcing the UK loan guarantee, so be it. If it means postponing the West End ferry terminal or government ministers’ various pet projects, so be it. If it means delaying the benefit increases for House of Assembly members, so be it.
The territory’s health is at stake.