Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fire in southern San Pedro ignites issues over illegal dumping

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On Sunday, August 27th, around noon, San Pedro residents living south of town were alarmed after observing thick billowing smoke in the distance. The search for the smoke’s origin led to the discovery of a fire in an area initially believed to be the old dump site. According to the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC), it is a private property on which they were allowed to dispose of ‘green’ (plant-based) waste. However, reports are that all sorts of garbage have been illegally dumped there over the last year. The fire grew dangerous, and the San Pedro Fire Service and the SPTC sanitation department have been working to contain the blaze. It is under control, and the responders are now dealing with the scattered hot spots. The initial reports suggest that the fire might have started when someone tried to burn something at the dump site.

As the efforts continued Monday to put out the fire completely, Mayor Gualberto’ Wally’ Nuñez said that although there is a waste transfer station on the island where all the island’s garbage is taken to, they decided to seek an area for green waste only. This includes garden rubbish such as leaves, tree branches, and anything organic. This new dump site was only to be used by the SPTC; however, people started illegally dumping in the area. “We had to place a fence because people were going to dump all sorts of garbage there,” said Mayor Nuñez. He said that these are evading the cost of the San Pedro Solid Waste Transfer Station.

To keep people from dropping off their rubbish in this new site, Mayor Nuñez said that a lock was placed at the gate in the entrance. “But people still get around it. As such, we are planning on not using the areas as a green waste dump site anymore,” said Mayor Nuñez. The Mayor said they will work with the waste transfer station so the SPTC can deliver all the garbage they collect there. The Mayor did not elaborate on why they had stopped taking all their trash to the transfer station.

In the meantime, the SPTC says that anyone caught dumping at this location will be fined. Currently, there is a $1,000 fine for illegal dumping. According to the SPTC, several persons are authorized to issue such penalties. To deter people from illegally dumping in this location, the Mayor said they would work with the South Ambergris Caye Neighbourhood Watch to monitor activities in that area.

Residents claim SPTC did not respond to concerns about illegal dumping and the fire hazard

While this area was designated for green waste, appliances were observed at this dump site. As the fire truck and heavy machinery tackled the flames, disposed air-conditioning units were observed. Old fans and even rubber tires were scattered around. The combustion of these items led to thick clouds of smoke, which were not only considered toxic but spread across the nearby homes and businesses.

Per the SPTC, they have a strict rule regarding appliance disposal. These items should be taken to the solid waste transfer station and not be disposed of anywhere else on the island. The SPTC even has a schedule for their sanitation crew to collect appliances and industrial waste, including old washing machines, refrigerators, and construction materials. The schedule is from 6AM to 3PM daily in downtown San Pedro, Boca del Rio, and south on the main road until Victoria House Beach Resort and Monday to Saturday in the other subdivisions.

The dumping of appliances at this site has been happening for months with the town council’s knowledge. Stakeholders and people living in this island area say they have been alerting the SPTC about the illegal dumping and voiced their concern that it was a growing fire hazard. They said the town council kept saying they would look into the issue. However, this did not happen, and it wasn’t until the fire that the SPTC took notice. Mayor Nuñez assured that the site would no longer be used for dumping.

As the fire is yet to be completely extinguished, the San Pedro Fire Service said they will continue working until the site is safe. According to them, several hot spots can ignite into flames; thus, they will remain in the area until the issue has been adequately addressed.

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