‘Not many people are willing to speak out’
Pembroke resident Adenike Carmichael’s dream home became a nightmare because of problems she believes could be a result of Belco operations. Sarah Lagan visited her at her house on Bluff Lane to hear her story.
Becoming a new homeowner was far from the positive experience Adenike Carmichael had hoped for after structural problems arose in tandem with vibrations from the nearby Belco plant.
Before the energy company decommissioned several old engines and exhaust stacks, her house would rattle so much that it would wake her from her sleep.
The vibrations from the engines were one worry but the structural damage to her property including cracks, leaks and shifted doors and windows also kept her awake at night.
Ms Carmichael, who moved into the house on Bluff Lane, Pembroke in 2015, said: “The rattling was mostly at night at 11pm and 2am or 3am. It was consistently vibrating. It sounded like a Gombey drum.
“At night when nothing else was going on you could hear it clearly. It was waking me from my sleep.
“The cracks have put pressure on this door so it no longer opens and there is pressure on the windows so when it rains it leaks and it floods. You can see the cracking along the entire interior wall and the exterior wall as well — water will always find its way in.
“I sacrificed for years, moving in with my parents, sharing a room with my daughter just so that we could do the renovations to the best of our ability while keeping costs down. Every penny I had was invested into the purchase and renovation. Then the vibrations occurred.”
When Ms Carmichael approached Belco about the vibrations, which ceased with the decommissioning of the old engines, the company agreed to investigate.
An independent report it commissioned by Brunel Ltd concluded in February that the cracks could have been caused by poor construction methods or the ground beneath the house not being properly compacted, thereby compromising the infrastructure. A report by the company’s structural engineer concluded similarly.
However, Ms Carmichael said that during renovations to the house it was evident that the ground beneath was solid rock. She decided to commission her own report but said that it left her with more questions than answers.
“I showed videos I had taken of the rattling to an independent structural engineer who was part of the renovation of my property. He said he hadn’t seen anything like it before. I showed it to the independent structural engineer that Belco used when he came to do his assessment. I did have a separate report done. It said it could be construction, but because of the range of things that are going on, it was not likely.”
Ms Carmichael’s report was conducted by Mason and Associates Ltd which concluded: “Based on the extent of movement seen on the video of the ceiling chandelier it may be reasonable to infer that this recurring vibration is a contributing factor to the debonding of the plaster finishes and cracks in the masonry, specifically on the southern wall facing the Belco property. Other contributing factors may be corroded rebar expansion in the lintels and possibly poorly bonded plaster to the underlying, original masonry.”
Ms Carmichael added: “I feel as though the assessments in general need more of a scope — looking at everything. Belco’s person wasn’t aware that this house is built on solid natural rock. My structural engineer hasn’t seen Belco’s review since his was conducted. I am not sure what he would say in reference to that. The difficulty is there are not that many people who are willing to put their name on the line and speak out against Belco.
“We need some kind of mechanism that is completely independent to make a decision as to what is and what isn’t a result of the vibrations.”
Ms Carmichael said that others in her neighbourhood have reported cracks in their houses. She said that she and others are considering taking matters forward collectively.
“Ideally, I would like my home to be put back into the state that it was in prior to the vibrations,” she said.
“There is a suit that we can put together in Bermuda that we can consider. There is a group of us and we are going to be getting together quite soon and will possibly put together something as a collective.”
Belco commissioned an independent report by Brunel Ltd. The conclusion included the following information. The same conclusion was reached by a report by a Belco structural engineer.
“Brunel Ltd have been asked to review the potential relationship of observed defects with vibration from the Belco generation site.
“The defects observed are defects that are common to many residential buildings and would normally be attributed to poor workmanship and incorrect construction methods.
“The property exhibits both minor and major defects in addition to cosmetic defects and the threshold for minor and major damage is significantly higher than that for cosmetic damage.
“Brunel Ltd concludes that it is unlikely that vibrations from the Belco generation site have contributed to the cosmetic damage observed and extremely unlikely that they have contributed to the more severe classifications of damage observed.”
Ms Carmichael’s property is also impacted by the soot and rust fallouts associated with Belco’s North Power Station and she believes that more needs to be done to protect affected residents.
“With the most recent fallout [in July], I asked for my water to be tested and was told that water testing would take place sometime in August or September.
“This is utterly ridiculous. After a fallout it should be mandatory that all persons with roof issues have their water tested immediately and thereafter monitored for a period of time.
“If the quality isn’t as it should be, a mechanism should be put in place for people to have filters put in their homes.
“The Clean Air Act needs to have its scope widened as far as compensation and as far as fines, and fines need to be material to the impact.”
She said that costs associated with continuing problems stemming from Belco should not be shouldered by the consumer, adding: “Companies pay out dividends to the higher-ups and those dividends can be significant.
“Perhaps what they should do is recognise who they are paying out dividends and bonuses to and say to themselves, ‘You know what, we are impacting people, maybe what we take home shouldn’t be so high’.”