Belco could face fines of $50,000 a day, says health minister
Belco could face hefty fines of up to $50,000 a day if its emissions are ruled a nuisance and not abated, the Minister of Health said yesterday.
Kim Wilson, who has the power to rule the emissions a statutory nuisance under the Public Health Act 1949, was speaking at her ministry as affected residents hand-delivered a package of brown tank water, soot deposits and filthy water filters — “evidence“ to assist her in an investigation into whether the action should be taken.
Mark Pettingill, a lawyer representing residents and the Bermuda Clean Air Coalition, included in the package a letter calling on Ms Wilson to issue the nuisance order within two weeks or face legal action.
On receiving the package, Ms Wilson told The Royal Gazette: “This straddles two ministries — the Department of Environment and Natural Resources [under the Ministry of Home Affairs] as well as health. We are working together in tandem to try to find a satisfactory resolution for everyone.
“Under the Public Health Act 1949, there is provision to rule something as a statutory nuisance and an abatement order can be issued.
“In the event that that is not fulfilled, then summary jurisdiction proceedings are commenced, and if abatement is still not fulfilled, it is a $2,500 fine. The Clean Air Act does provide for a $50,000 fine per day.”
Mr Pettingill said the evidence for nuisance was overwhelming and that he hoped the ministry’s investigation would not be lengthy.
He said: “In order to assist the minister with this investigation, the residents of the area have put together the following evidence.”
He pointed to a filter that would usually be white which, he said, had in less than a few months become a sodden brown colour.
“There is soot picked up from the front lawn of one residence and then probably the most important one of all is the water out of the tank — the Belco water.
“This is the water that has purportedly been deemed OK for people to drink. The minister and members of the Government are welcome to give it a try. I haven’t.
“They also presented a number of photographs by way of photographic evidence to assist the minister and the Government with regard to what goes on on a regular basis.
“The evidence is overwhelming with regard to there being a nuisance. Belco has cleaned the roofs, cleaned the tanks, they put filtration systems in — as far as acknowledging they are the author of the nuisance — and Algonquin [Power & Utilities] being the parent company, that is also deemed to be the author of the nuisance. They have effectively admitted they are doing it.
“Why it is that the Government, with the types of statements that are being issued by ministers, which are very strong statements, would require further investigation is beyond me, but hopefully this helps.”
Arthurton Riviere, a retiree, was one of two residents who delivered the package. He and his wife, Sharon, have been forced to leave their family home of generations as they are unable to live with the emissions.
He said: “It has been about four weeks since I moved out and you can hear that crackling in my voice — I will leave it right there.”
Anthony Hayward, another resident, said: “I’ve been in the area 60 years — if there is any harm that has been done to me because of Belco it has already been done. My fight today is for the younger generation.”
He said if Ms Wilson was not up to the job of protecting residents’ health, she should resign.
The Royal Gazette first asked Ms Wilson on February 17 whether she intended to use her legal powers to have the problem abated, about a week before the investigation was launched, but she said it was residents’ complaints that prompted the investigation.
However, residents have been filing complaints for at least three years since the commissioning of the North Power Station.
Pushed on the issue, Ms Wilson said: “Health became aware of it in so far as our role here at the ministry a few weeks ago”.
She then backtracked and said: “ … Not aware of it but recognising that it was something that could be considered to be explored through the Public Health Act which is what we are doing.
“We are looking at all the possible remedies and solutions to address a very significant and serious issue. I just need to assure you that the Government is committed to looking into this and addressing it as expeditiously as possible.”
The package, delivered at her Hamilton office, was also accompanied by a letter from residents that said: “This is a Bermuda issue, not a surrounding community issue … This has to stop! There are several homes, schools, businesses, churches and more impacted.
“No more evidence or proof should be required for Government to take strong action on behalf of its citizens. This is more than a nuisance, it is an abomination.”
Belco has been approached for comment.