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Residents urge Government to pressure Belco to clean up its act

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Art and Sharon Riviere outside their home at St John's Road, Pembroke (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Pembroke residents have urged the Government to stick by its guns after it put pressure on Belco to reduce emissions from its North Power Station.

The Opposition said that the Government must legislate comprehensive remediation programmes for affected residents.

Sharon Riviere, whose family home on St John’s Road was recently covered in large amounts of soot after a fallout from the electricity supplier, said: “This last downpour is like nothing we have ever experienced. I feel encouraged by the Government’s comments — maybe it has made them realise that enough is enough. I am pleased that they are taking it seriously.”

In a statement released this week, Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said that Belco, along with the Environmental Authority, needed to take “urgent action … to ensure that the volume of soot entering the environment is addressed”.

He said that once the authority identified an approach to tackling the soot issue, the Government would discuss it with other relevant agencies and advise the public on next steps.

Mr Roban added that legislation being drafted “will put new clean-air limits to ensure businesses take the necessary steps to prevent the down-drafting of exhaust emissions and fumes from tanks entering the environment”.

Area residents have been complaining of soot fallouts, as well as exhaust emissions and fuel odours, from Belco since the North Power Station was upgraded two years ago. The company has said it is investigating the matter.

Ms Riviere, who turns 77 on Sunday, said she believes her health has been affected by the pollution. Referring to herself and her husband, Art, she said: “We are old and would like to live a little longer.

“If the Government is serious and really is going to change the standards, they must continue to put pressure on the new owners. Politically, they made a mistake to put it there.”

Mr Riviere said Belco should compensate everyone affected, including providing free electricity to homes of those affected.

Belco has taken some remedial measures to help to mitigate the problem including cleaning and painting roofs and water tanks, and replacing contaminated water.

OBA calls for compensation for residents

The Government should ensure that residents affected by emissions from Belco are compensated, the One Bermuda Alliance has said.

Susan Jackson, One Bermuda Alliance MP, said : “It’s time for government to legislate a uniformed and equal approach to restitution for Pembroke residents who are being negatively impacted by the Belco’s North Power Plant.

“Cleaning up clean air laws and imposing stiffer penalties for emissions is only part of the amendments needed to improve Bermuda’s environmental standards. Our laws must also include restitution to area residents who are exposed daily to the harsh pollutants that are negatively impacting personal health and private property.

“Belco has a corporate social responsibility to create and maintain a fully developed and ongoing remediation programme to address hazards impacting area residents while the Government must legislate comprehensive remediation programmes that are transparent and equal for all property owners who are affected in the area.”

Ms Jackson said that residents needed a platform where maintenance and health related submissions can be made and automatically addressed. She said Belco must provide remediation and ongoing maintenance at no cost to those affected.

She added: “Presently, Belco appears to have a variety of arrangements with area residents, which seem to vary based on how long a resident has been complaining or to whom the complaint was made. On the surface it seems relationships between Belco and area residents are based on a number of factors. The inconsistent variety of solutions from one neighbour compared to the next is further causing confusion, anxiety and frustration.”

“All area residents should have equal access to effective maintenance and cleansing appliances such as water and air infiltration systems. Regular roof painting, tank cleaning and stain removal must be available to all affected residents without time-consuming assessments and reviews.”

Questions about Ms Jackson’s statement have been sent to the Government and Belco.

Vaughan Trott, another senior area resident, said the mitigations are just a “band aid” and real action needs to be taken.

“Let’s be totally honest about this — the situation is dire,” she said.

“The country needs the electricity but the pollution is inevitable. It’s not just in the surrounding area — the wind blows it. Children are affected, we have schools in the area, Saltus, the Berkeley Institute, Northlands Primary School … there are businesses and residents affected.

“Government is saying it is putting pressure on Belco but let’s be realistic — there’s only so much government can do — you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

“All I know is I have soot and oil on my property and I just want a solution. People’s health is being affected. This is a situation, as far as a government and as far as a major corporation, that is essential to fix but it’s a tall order.”

Susan Jackson (Photograph supplied)

The Ministry of Home Affairs said that related complaints reported to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources fall into three main categories: the new North Power Station engines emit soot particles into the environment; the down-drafting of exhaust emissions from the tall stacks to residents in the Ocean Lane area; and fume odours from St Johns Road tanks holding hot oils and fuels.