Beetham’s fate

Today, four years later, the Beetham Landfill, which is a threat to the area’s surface and ground water, to the wetlands on which it sits and to the health of surrounding communities, is still functioning as Trinidad and Tobago’s largest garbage site.

This week, the future of the Beetham Landfill once again made the news. There was talk anew that its days might be numbered. Minister of Housing and Development Dr Roodal Moonilal, on an official trip to New York, expressed his Government’s concern over the location of the Beetham landfill. The People’s Partnership, he said, is considering following the example of Staten Island, home to what was once the world’s largest garbage dumps, the Fresh Kills Landfill, which is now being converted into the Fresh Kills Park. In the meantime Government is also learning how to turn a profit from the sequestration and sale of the hydrocarbons emanating from the refuse.

The park proposal is a good one for it would provide Port-of-Spain and the East West corridor with a spectacular natural retreat to which to escape, a second urban green zone in which to walk, ride, play, hold community and cultural events, much like New York’s Central Park. It would spare our health, save our water supply and our wetlands. A park would improve our capital’s landscape. But can we afford it? Will the sale of carbons pay for its development?

We hope so. We hope that this time talk about the landfill is transformed into definite planning and action. If the Beetham dump stays where it is, TT is only spinning top in mud, that is, striving to build a modern, golden Port-of- Spain, while leaving the garbage piled high outside its gateway. As it is, any plan for its future as a park will take years if not decades to be conceived and executed. Fresh Kills Park is a 30-year project. Though the Beetham is smaller, the timelier the design and implementation of a park proposal the better.

One has to wonder if in the past, enrivonmental concerns have not given way to political expediency because of the location of the adjoining Beetham Gardens, typically a PNM stronghold. In 2006, when its closure was announced there was vociferous condemnation of the decision from the scavengers and many of the Beetham residents who declared they made their living off the dump. Some even threatened to turn to a life of crime if the Landfill was closed. The site remained open.

Surely though, a few thousand cannot be allowed to dictate a course that is dangerous to a country’s environment and citizens. No one wants to place families on the breadline, but the scavengers and residents cannot, by their threats, hold TT and Port-of-Spain environmentally hostage. The scavengers can be provided with new employment at the renewed site, if it is converted into a park.

Kairi, a Caribbean and Latin American NGO, has suggested the Beetham Landfill be turned into a major energy, fertiliser and recycling production facility. Perhaps if we cannot afford to transform the dump into a park, or if we cannot establish a site for Port-of-Spain?s waste disposal and treatment elsewhere, but must make the Beetham into a waste and energy enterprise, there too, the scavengers can find jobs.

One has also to ask, whether it is not also felt that if the Landfill is reconverted into a recycling site or into a park as this Government is suggesting, that Beetham Gardens will be next to go, its residents forced to relocate. Indeed, it is difficult to see how else Port-of-Spain and Trinidad and Tobago can be transformed. Beetham Gardens and we mean its residents no disrespect, despite paint jobs and renovations, is unsightly and unhealthy.

There is certain to be protest over this fresh announcement from Dr Moonilal, but the Beetham Landfill once called the La Basse, French for its location in “the flatlands” or the “swampland,” is a health and environmental hazard. However, it is one that we can use to our net advantage if its future is considered in the absence of the usual politics. And only then if immediate action is taken to shut it down.


"Beetham’s fate"

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