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Never Again! Arscott says Jamaica won't see another major fire at Riverton

Published:Wednesday | April 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Noel Arscott, minister of local government and community development.
The Riverton City disposal site during the recent fire.

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott said yesterday that Jamaica will never again see a fire of the magnitude of the last one at the Riverton City disposal site.

"We have now covered essentially all of Riverton except where they are currently tipping so there is no possibility of this kind of fire that you have seen here again," Arscott said at the weekly Jamaica House press briefing.

The recent fire at Riverton in St Andrew, thought to be the biggest ever at the disposal site, cost $235 million to extinguish, director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Major Clive Davis said.

The minister, meanwhile, said that with the significant fund expended at Riverton because of the fire, the site "... has been covered ..., and plans are now in place that it will be maintained and that no more than 10 acres will be opened at any given time".

Davis said the Riverton site will be completely covered by Saturday, and it is anticipated that "what we will see is an increase in the stockpiling of cover material for any future activities there".

Meanwhile, Arscott, who said he was not contemplating resigning as minister, said the Government has procured

fire-suppressing equipment, and will be putting them into service at Riverton, to ensure that the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) is able to respond to fires in the event of an outbreak.

"This fire occurred just after we procured fire suppression equipment to do just that," he said, in relation to criticism that specialised equipment should have been at hand to combat fires at the dump.

"We now have a pump, which we were able to use to extract water from the Duhaney River. We started the process of constructing a tank to install the fire suppression system just before this incident occurred," Arscott said.

The minister said that while the pump was used to fight the last fire, pipes which were purchased have not yet been installed. He said that once this is done, the relevant authorities will be able to respond even before the fire trucks get there, if there is a fire.

"We are going to remove one of the big dangers - the tyres - and I have offers now from private-sector entities to take them. We are also going to reduce the amount of organic material going into the dump," the minister said.

"The management of organic waste is also of concern, as it is well know that where it exists in abundance, there is the production of methane gas and the chances of spontaneous combustion increase," Arscott said.

In the meantime, the minister said security is a major issue at disposal sites and stressed that the current arrangements are now being reviewed with the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

This arrangement, he said, would involve the use of surveillance technology at the 120-acre Riverton site.

With regards to plans to divest the site, Arscott said the NSWMA is in possession of 15 expressions of interest from entities seeking to take over the dump. He said that the issue of a tipping fee, which is the amount charged for the offloading of garbage has been a major sticking point in the bid to off-load Riverton to private entities.

"In Jamaica, we currently charge $1,000 per truck load, and it is called administration fee. It is a significant source of revenue for managers of landfills. Because of the way our country has evolved, we don't have one and it is part and parcel of some of the problems with limited resources in managing the thing properly," Arscott said.

"An enterprise team has been approved by Cabinet to examine these 15 proposals and to come up with a solution, having done an evaluation, (of) whether a waste to energy or a waste management facility ... . The committee will examine all the options to privatise the dump," he added.