Norconsult in controversial Barbados project: Waste disposal site in the middle of national park
By Harald Eraker
– If the waste disposal site is built as planned, Barbados will enter the Guinness Book of Records as the only country in the world that has placed a dump inside a national park, says Richard B. Goddard of the Scotland District Association, one of the organisations working against the project.
The two Canadian companies Spring Point Management and North Western Construction have been given the contract to build the tip, which is estimated to cost 126 million US dollars. Norconsult's unit in Jamaica has been given the contract for the construction management. Project manager Bjørn Finnborud of Norconsult does not wish to tell NorWatch how much the contract is worth.
The whole project has applied for and is dependent upon loans from the Inter-American Development Bank.
Over the last years, the controversy surrounding the location of a new national waste disposal site has been the hottest issue in Barbados. In September of 1994, the Barbados Labour Party gained power in the country. One of the promises the party made prior to the election was that the existing national waste disposal site was to be re-situated. The popular word for this dump is Mt. Stinkeroo.
– The Mt. Stinkeroo dump was mismanaged for several years gravely by the previous government. The dump lacked resources; disgusting smoke and smell from fires and decomposition was brought by the wind to the luxurious Sandy Lane District, where rich Americans, Canadians and Europeans have their houses, Goddard explains.
Four alternative locations of a new waste disposal site were presented, of which one was to upgrade the existing one and another to place it inside the national park. In spite of the recommendations from national and international experts not to place the dump in the national park, the authorities hastily decided on this alternative.
The decision lead to an escalation of the conflict; the opponents arranged demonstrations and marches through the national park. The day after the decision was made, the Minister of Health, Liz Thompson, was chased away by hundreds of angry demonstrators when attempting to explain to the locals the government's view on the issue.
When asked whether Norconsult is aware of the controversy in Barbados, project manager Finnborud answered that he first became aware of the opposition to the issue by the organisation that is lead by Richard Goddard, when he visited the country in May this year.
– We are well acquainted with the arguments for and against the planned location of the waste disposal site, said Finnborud.
NorWatch can document that Goddard and his companions far from are the only ones opposing the project:
Heavy institutions and governmental organisations such as the Department for Agriculture, the Tourist Department, Barbados Museums and the History Association and the water resource authorities, as well as the tourist and hotel industry are against the project or have expressed deep concern about it.
The newspaper articles reflect the dimensions of this matter in the country: According to journalist Terry Ally of the newspaper The Nation there were more than 1500 articles on the conflict on print in 1995 alone.
The core of dispute
Ever since the 70's there have been plans to establish a national park in Scotland District. In 1991 the plans were established by law with the aim to «conserve and protect vulnerable nature and human made resources, to the benefit of economical, social, cultural and ecological purposes».
This information is news to Norconsult.
– We knew there existed outdoor interests there, but it does not appear from the documentation we have seen that there is a national park in the area. Having been there myself, I must say there is little to suggest a national park in the area. Houses, roads, even clay pits are already there, says Finnborud.
– Does the fact that there is a national park there change anything with regard to Norconsult's participation in the project?
– No, we cannot let us be guided by special interests. This is a legal decision that we can't interfere in. We trust a thorough evaluation of the project has been made, as the project is supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Our job is to ensure that the development is carried out responsibly, according to plans and regulations, answers Finnborud.
IDB, on its hand, have postponed the final approval to support the project several times on account of the controversy. The decision is as of now postponed until September of this year.
«It is environmental madness placing a garbage dump in the middle of a national park».
Parliament member George Payne
The Scotland District National Park lays in rolling terrain with clay soil, and the opponents warn that the tip may be exposed to landslides during rainstorms.
– The question is not if, but when a landslide will take away the tip. The consequences for this very last green lung are catastrophic, Goddard says.
The opponents also argue that having the waste disposal site inside the national park will be disastrous for the tourist industry, which is the most important industry in Barbados.
– The unemployment rate in our country is 20%. The national park gives Barbados opportunities to use eco-tourism as a source of income. But who will want to visit a national park with a garbage tip in the middle of it, Goddard asks. He fears Barbados will be made an international laughingstock.
His organisation has written a letter to Norconsult in Jamaica, urging the Norwegian company to think twice before signing the contract. In the letter it is claimed, among other things, that the «company's reputation is at stake».
Exit national park
The government, with Health Minister Thompson in front, is firmly set on going through with the construction according to plan. It is claimed that of all the alternatives that have been reviewed, studies show that the national park is the best one.
– The opponents is left with one single argument; namely that the dump is to be situated inside a national park, Thompson has expressed to the newspapers.
In addition, she has spoken in favour of excluding the area in which the tip is to be situated from the national park. A political comment in the opposition newspaper The Barbados Advocate wrote the following on her proposal:
«The very best that may be said of Mrs. Thompson in this case, is that she has acknowledged the fact that it is inappropriate to place a national waste disposal site inside a national park. However; the unfortunate lady's proposition for solving the problem is to ask the Government to declare that (the area in which the tip is to be situated) no longer is part of the national park.»
Norconsult in Barbados
In the spring of 1996, Norconsult was given the contract for the management of the development of a national waste disposal site in Barbados. The contract for the project (Solid Waste Management) was given Norconsult through the company's department in Jamaica
Norwatch Newsletter 5/96