POND ISLAND:--- On Thursday, November 24, 2016 the Council of Ministers met with the management of the three major industries operating in the Cay Bay area – SOL, US Laundry and NV GEBE - to discuss the environmental and health situation at hand. While Minister of Education, Ms. Silveria Jacobs, has been addressing the situation in the Cay Bay area for the last couple of weeks, the complaints of residents in that area as well as of the Miss Lalie Center have increased. For this reason, the Council upon request of Minister Jacobs called for the urgent meetings.
SOL, represented by the Operations Manager Mr. Robert James and Mr. Bernard Cumberbatch, Senior Engineer from SOL Corporate office, explained to the Council that the company is the distributor of end products to their users; no processing of any of their products occurs. SOL, which has been in operation on St. Maarten over the last 11 years, adheres to strict rules and regulations in accordance with its 11 existing policies among which is its Health Safety and Environment Policy. Yearly audits are conducted which form the basis of the ratings of the company. This is all part of the vision and mission of SOL which adheres to the central themes of safety, service and integrity, according to the representatives of SOL. In addition Minister of VROMI, Mr. Angel Meyers, elucidated that SOL is in its final stage of obtaining a hindrance permit from the Ministry. SOL has been working closely with the ministry on this matter for the last years, which the permit will aid in the adherence of proper environmental regulations.
Mr. Hans van der Moot, representative of US Laundry, subsequently provided the Council with an update. The recent problem with the fuel pump has been solved and general checks are done on a consistent basis. The outcome of the general checks will be shared with the Council and can be shared to provide insight to the residents of the area and the parents of the students attending Leonald Conner School. A hindrance permit for the company is in place; hence the company needs to meet certain government standards and undergo regular controls to maintain the required level.
GEBE management team - CEO Mr. Kendrick Chittick, COO Mrs. Veronica Webster-Jansen and CFO Mrs. Iris Arrindell elucidated on the steps to be undertaken by GEBE. One of these includes to have the majority of their engines, including the new upcoming one for the month of December, run on natural gas which eliminates the emission of any gas. Solar Energy was also discussed as an option. The Government is currently in the process of reviewing GEBE’s request for a solar project. The Council requested for GEBE to prepare a timeline of the actions planned to reduce the environmental situation in the Cay Bay area and to ensure that the general public, and in particular, the residents of the area are aware of the remedies undertaken by them.
Considering that the sulfur dioxide level was as zero in the classrooms with air-conditioning, the Council relied on the good corporate citizenship of all three companies to provide the necessary (financial) means to rewire the electrical system at the Leonald Conner School and furnish all classrooms with air-conditioning. A formal letter to this effect will be sent to each company. Though no firm commitment could be made by the representatives present, all were willing to consider the request. The Council is aware that it is not the final solution of the situation at hand, but it will allow the children of the school to return safely to their own classrooms. In the meantime, testing of the environmental and health situation will continue; NV GEBE committed to have a full testing executed to ascertain the level of roughly 9 gasses in the air. The results can be concluded in approximately 3 weeks once the contract has been signed. The outcome will be communicated to those concerned. The Ministry of VROMI will also conduct an independent study on the air quality in the area to aid in the determination of the source and possible solutions moving forward.
Minister Jacobs, in particular, was satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. She stated that the information provided shed more light on the environmental and health situation at hand and showed the willingness for and cooperation of the three companies to facilitate an immediate solution for the Leonald Conner School. These meetings also showed willingness of all concerned to investigate and remedy the situation in the interest of environmental and public health. The situation at Cay Bay area will continue to have the Council’s full attention.