Residents sue government over landfill fires.

One-hundred and eleven Jubilee Gardens residents have filed a class action lawsuit against the government and Renew Bahamas, claiming their health and that of their families, and the enjoyment of their homes, have been impacted by fires and hazardous smoke from the New Providence Landfill for years.

In a writ filed by Fred Smith, QC, who represents the group, the residents claim they have all been “injuriously affected by the continuous fires; thick, black smoke; unbearable stench and dangerous, toxic and hazardous emissions occasioned by the fires from the New Providence Landfill”.

“By reason thereof, the residents of Jubilee have suffered loss, damage, personal injury, trauma, ill health, sickness and disease to themselves personally and their families, and likewise damage and loss to their homes and belongings,” read the document filed on Friday.

“The residents of Jubilee have, in short, been sickened to near death; their lives continuously disrupted; subjected to constant medical and regular temporary relocation expenses; the value of their homes rendered almost worthless; and their belongings damaged.

“Their lives are in a state of constant crisis and turmoil.”

Melissa Allen-Maynard is named as the lead plaintiff, representing the interests of the 111 residents.

The defendants are Renew Bahamas, the minister of environment and housing, the director of the Department of Environmental Health, the minister of public works and the attorney general.

The residents are seeking general damages for “nuisance and/or negligence”, in a sum to be assessed; for repair costs to their homes; medical costs; and damages for the “breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment outlined in the conveyance between the minister of the environment and housing and the residents of Jubilee”.

The residents are also seeking special damages for expenses incurred in relation to cleaning as a result of thick smoke; displacement costs as a result of the proximity of the fires; and professional fees for appraisers and environmentalists.

An April 2017 Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) report found that the landfill was an “urgent health hazard” and presented a “chronic health risk” for workers at the site and surrounding community.

The Ministry of Environment and Housing received the report on April 28, 2017, but the then environment minister, Kenred Dorsett, did not release it to the public.

The PAHO team said health assessments have to be performed on residents of Jubilee Gardens and Victoria Gardens, as well as workers at the landfill, a process the government confirmed last week was ongoing.

It was further claimed in the lawsuit that residents have been poisoned by carcinogenic gases, hydrocarbons and metals, all of which can seriously impact vital organs and cause cancer.

In due course the particulars on the loss and damage for each plaintiff will be outlined, according to the writ.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Jubilee residents continued that, when these residents contracted the government to purchase homes in the Jubilee Gardens Subdivision, an area “designated by the minister of environment and housing to be a safe residential neighborhood”, they were not made aware of the “catastrophe in store”.

The document said the residents relied on the minister, and his duty of care, to provide land for their homes in a non-hazardous, non-toxic, non-dangerous environment.

The residents claimed the minister breached that duty of care by failing to properly assess the danger of placing residents so close to the site; failing to operate the landfill to prevent serious uncontrolled fires that have occurred in close proximity to their homes; and failing to prevent harmful pollutants and emissions.

The lawsuit also said Renew Bahamas had this same duty of care during the company’s management period.

Renew Bahamas was responsible for managing the landfill between 2014 and 2016.

The government was responsible for the site prior to and following Renew Bahamas’ engagement.

The Minnis administration has said it is closer to a solution at the landfill than it has ever been before.

The latest request for proposals (RFP) for the remediation and operation of the landfill is expected to be completed by the end of March.

The Christie administration issued two RFPs.

According to Minister of the Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira, one RFP was a management proposal with a government stipend, and another was a waste-to-energy proposal.

Ferreira said a combination of both proposals would be an ideal solution.

The former administration committed to resolving the issues at the landfill by December 2017 as part of the heads of agreement with Baha Mar’s new owner, but the Bahamas government failed to do so.

Renew defends management

In a statement last Tuesday, Renew Bahamas advised that it had sought legal recourse against the government, claiming that, despite a more than $10 million investment in The Bahamas to positively impact the solid waste management industry, the company had to cease operations due to “unresolved disputes created by the government”.

Renew Bahamas claimed the government failed to adhere to significant terms of the landfill management agreement and refused to meet to facilitate a resolution, an 18-month process of “unsuccessfully trying to amicably resolve the disputes”.

“Renew has applied to the Supreme Court for relief, including the protection of its fixed and moveable assets which government has improperly and unlawfully restrained,” it said.

According to the company, despite suggestions from the government that Renew Bahamas failed operationally at the landfill, experts, including those engaged by the government from the University of Florida, confirmed the contrary.

“It is disappointing, as an investor who brought capital, technology and knowledge to train Bahamians, that we continue to be treated in this way,” Renew Bahamas said in a statement.

“As with other recent attacks on multi-national companies, it can only serve as a warning to potential investors that a lack of maturity exists in dealing with the government after deals are agreed upon.”
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Detained Jean-Charles back in custody upon landing

Jean Rony Jean-Charles, the man at the center of a controversial immigration ruling that has attracted widespread national attention, landed back in The Bahamas from Haiti on Saturday afternoon, but was quickly taken into custody by immigration authorities after the judge in the matter agreed to an emergency stay of his judgment handed down nearly a week ago.

Jean-Charles is now back at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, and his fate remains uncertain.

The emergency stay was granted until the judge hears an application today from the Office of the Attorney General seeking an extended stay of execution of the ruling until the appeal of the judgment is heard by the Court of Appeal.

Jean-Charles, who was first picked up by immigration authorities on Fire Trail Road last September, is a Haitian national, according to the Department of Immigration.

After he was picked up that first time, he was asked to produce documents and had no documents in his possession, according to the ruling.

Immigration officers took Jean-Charles to the detention center for further processing.

A month later, without ever seeing a day in court, Jean-Charles was “put on a plane and involuntarily taken to Haiti”.

It was reportedly his first time leaving The Bahamas.

Fred Smith, QC, filed an action in the court on his behalf and won the case.

Last Tuesday, Justice Gregory Hilton ordered the government to immediately issue a travel document to Jean-Charles to allow him to travel back to The Bahamas.

Hilton also ruled that Jean-Charles be paid the cost of the travel forthwith upon his return.

Additionally, the judge ordered that Jean-Charles be issued status to permit him to remain in The Bahamas within 60 days of him applying. He further ordered that the applicant be paid costs and compensation for breaches to his fundamental rights and liberties.

On Friday, the Office of the Attorney General appealed the matter, noting in court documents that the appeal has far-reaching implications and is a matter of national importance to the government and to the country as a whole, and a speedy resolution of the matter will provide clarity in the area of immigration law.

On Saturday evening, Attorney General Carl Bethel explained why he sought the emergency stay.

“On Friday, I reached out to Fred Smith, the attorney for Jean Rony, or the person who says he is Jean Rony, and indicated that we wanted to go to court that day in order to argue for a stay of execution of the judge’s order,” Bethel said.

He told The Nassau Guardian that Smith advised that he was in Freeport and would not be present in court on Friday.

The court then agreed that the application for a stay would be heard this afternoon (Monday).

“In the course of our discussion, Mr. Smith had indicated that Mr. [Jean-Charles] was in a very remote location and it would take a day and a half to get to Port-au-Prince; that the earliest flight that he could find from Port-au-Prince was the 13th of February, and that he would not be sending his own private plane to pick up Mr. [Jean-Charles] — all of which would create a certain impression in the mind of a reasonable person,” Bethel said.

“Then, to my shock, today (Saturday) I received an email about roughly 1:45 [p.m.] to myself and the minister of immigration indicating that they expect for Mr. [Jean-Charles] to be landing in The Bahamas at 2:30 [p.m.]. I think the actual time may have been 3 p.m. when he got in.

“I immediately contacted the judge, indicated the situation and requested an emergency stay of execution of his order pending the full hearing of the matter at the scheduled time and date.

“The judge readily complied. Mr. Smith, when I told him, asked for the judge’s number, which I had only just gotten. I had managed to find the judge’s number by asking around. I gave the number to Mr. Smith.

“I think Mr. Smith reported that he had spoken to the judge and the judge remained firm in the ruling which he gave on the matter that his [ruling] be stayed, which meant that any landing in The Bahamas by Mr. [Jean-Charles] would have been contrary to the stay of execution, which meant that the order that the judge had made that he be allowed to land was delayed as of this afternoon until not earlier than the end of the hearing on Monday afternoon at which time he would make the determination whether the person would be allowed to land.”

 

‘Games’

Smith said on Saturday he was shocked that the emergency stay was issued.

“I don’t know what games [Immigration] Minister Brent Symonette and Attorney General Carl Bethel are playing in the Jean Rony case,” he said, adding that Jean-Charles arrived from Haiti on Flamingo Air.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in conjunction with Mr. Symonette, had a travel document issued, an emergency travel document, and Mr. Symonette asked me to confirm when [Mr. Jean-Charles] would be arriving, and I did so today once Jean Rony was on a flight, and the next thing I knew was that Mr. Bethel had obtained an emergency stay of the judgment from the Supreme Court.

“I take the position that there is nothing to stay in respect of the travel document because the government already complied with that part of the judge’s ruling.

“It seems a bit perverse that they would issue a travel document, my client would then travel on it, and then they would apply for a stay.”

Asked why he would seek a stay of the ruling after the government granted Jean-Charles a travel document, the attorney general explained: “The minister of foreign affairs is simply seeking on his part to carry out a court order. And a court order has validity until it is countermanded by the court or by a higher court.

“So it would only have been upon the court granting a stay that the minister would have been able not to comply with the order. Every order takes effect from the moment it is pronounced.”

Smith said his side wishes to have damages assessed.

He told The Nassau Guardian last week that he intends to seek substantial damages.

In the meantime, he will argue against the stay being kept in place.

“I don’t understand why they (the government) are making such a big fuss about this poor, young man who was born in The Bahamas 35 years ago and [had] never been out of the country. What’s the big deal with Jean Rony?” Smith asked.

“A person belongs where they were born, and he knows no other home. Why not do the honorable thing and simply give him citizenship when he returns? What’s the big deal?”

Smith said he spoke to Jean-Charles while he was still in Haiti on Saturday morning and he was “happy and excited to be returning home”.

He said he had not spoken to him since he was detained once again but imagined Jean-Charles is “terrified” over the latest development in the matter.

Asked why Jean-Charles did not apply for citizenship after he turned 18 (as permitted by the Bahamas constitution), Smith said that was something he could not speak to.

Smith added that this matter has tremendous implications for all of those who were “unlawfully expelled from The Bahamas who were also born here”.

Even without the Jean-Charles ruling, people who fall in that category should take legal action “for their unconstitutional expulsion”, he added.

The application for a stay is scheduled to be heard before Hilton at 3 p.m. today.

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Road Ready | The countdown is on — 99 days to Bahamas Carnival

Yesterday the 100-day countdown to Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival began. As I changed out of my street clothes and into my regular workout gear at the gym, I overheard the utterances of some fellow gym-goers. They knew the 100-day countdown was on, and they were getting their bodies prepared.

But even with only 100 days left until Bahamians and visitors take to the streets of New Providence for the fourth Bahamian carnival, several things remain outstanding.

Firstly, only one band has had an official launch event and presented its costumes. Last weekend, Euphoria Madness took over Margaritaville on Paradise Island to show-off its carnival costumes to the general public for the first time.

We have yet to see launch events from the big two bands — Bahamas Masqueraders and Enigma. But an ad in The Nassau Guardian yesterday revealed that their official launch events are both to be held next month. Bahamas Masqueraders plans to launch on February 23 and Enigma on February 24. The smaller band, Xtasy, has planned its launch event for days before the big two, on February 3.

The other thing that is missing is that there has been no real buy-in from government, and that has lots of people worried. But it shouldn’t. The show will go on.

The carnival bands have vowed to gain permission for the road, and we will chip down the streets as we have done for the past three years.

The Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival has received rave reviews from visitors and soca artists who have come to perform. As one of the newest carnivals on the global carnival circuit, that is something to be proud of. But with the government leaving the concert segment completely up to the private sector this year, it is yet to be seen how it will stand up to the multimillion-dollar productions of previous years, the productions that left the country with a “hangover” in its pockets, costing almost $30 million over three years.

The Free National Movement (FNM) government has vowed not to throw any money behind Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival 2018. But that is okay!

Carnival 2018 is sure to see the spawning of fetes in lieu of three days of concerts. The carnival could become a something-for-everyone-type of atmosphere across New Providence, instead of the tailored concerts in a “cultural village”.

It should have been expected that the government could not continue to hemorrhage millions to sustain Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival. Now, it will organically take on a life of its own. And it seems the private sector will have to take on the entire business of Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival if it is to continue as an annual festival. The question is will it grow?

Blue Monkey’s Bahamas Carnival Cruise continues to grow, if that’s any indicator of the interest Americans have in coming to The Bahamas for Carnival.

Come what may, we will bring them to the starting line, turn the music up, fill their cups and show them the time of their lives. So hit the gym, guys and gals – we have lots of work to do.

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Headlines: Bed crisis at PMH

To tackle what is being described as a crisis of bed shortages at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday that elective surgery will be discontinued indefinitely as of today until the shortage eases.

Seventeen patients were admitted to hospital on Wednesday, but there were no beds “anywhere in the hospital” to accommodate them, a consequence of an increased number of boarders taking up beds and the 67 beds that remain out of commission, Sands said.

Ambulances were also lined up outside and could not offload patients because, in addition to the shortage of beds, there were no trolleys to transfer patients to and from the operating rooms.

“There is no simple fix to this,” said Sands, when contacted for comment.

“We’ve incorporated space that had been decommissioned.

“We have people in the old operating theater.

“We have people in the old intensive care unit.

“We have people in the old recovery room.

“We’ve created multiple virtual wards in the hospital.”

He added, “God forbid we have a mass casualty event.”

Sands said renovations on the out-of-commission wards began more than a year ago, but construction came to a halt due to a lack of funding.

“We have been challenged to identify the funding because, again, all of this funding shortfall would have been accumulative,” the minister said.

“In my budget presentation I would have spoken about budgetary charges from the last fiscal year of roughly $20 million, plus commitments for this year of almost $80 million.

“And identifying all of those funds, relevant to the total indebtedness of the government has been challenging, so as we were able to deal with certain items outstanding in terms of payables, we would have dealt with it.”

The hospital has discharged more than 30 of its boarders, but their families have either refused to collect them or claimed they simply cannot care for them, according to the minister.

To resolve the long-standing problem, renovations are underway on one of the wards, which is expected to bring 24 beds back in service by April.

“I would have toured that ward today and they are putting in flooring.

“It is virtually completed, once the flooring is completed.

“The light fixtures are in.

“There is some wood work to be done, and then beds, and so on and so forth.”

Sands said the boarders need to be moved out of the hospital, as they pose a “serious challenge” to new patients, but this is also not an easy fix.

Some of them can be moved to specialized nursing homes if there were subsidies, he said.

But Sands said again, the problem is finding funds that have not been budgeted.

Asked whether PMH may have to consider putting those who have been discharged out of the hospital, the minister said, “Notwithstanding the horrendous implications for healthcare that the hospital and the people of The Bahamas are being held hostage by some social realities, usually during the holiday season this type of thing spikes.

“Some people find it convenient to leave their elderly or infirmed loved ones in hospital.

“We might not want to accept that is life in The Bahamas, but it is.”

Sands said, as minister, he is committed to resolving the problem, but it will require some unpopular decisions and outcomes.

“Notwithstanding the fact that there will be cries [of] ‘You’re the minister, fix it’, some of the fixes require some unpopular medium and long-term decision making.

“One of the most important things is we need to have additional revenue in order to do what needs to be done, and that revenue ultimately has to come from the public.”

He added, “Yes, we have a plan. Yes, we are implementing the plan.

“But it is not going to be a comfortable ride because, having made the decision to cancel elective surgery, there are some people who have been waiting months for that surgery.”

Four of the 20 ICU beds have also been shut down because there are only enough nurses to care for 16 patients, according to Sands, who said he planned to meet with the entire body of the nurses union yesterday evening to see how best to address these long-standing challenges.

“As we utilize nursing staff for more and more overtime and as you lose more and more nurses, the problem becomes self-perpetuating,” he said.

According to Sands, inadequate revenue performance has also compounded the problem.

He said on average the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) collects less than $5 per patient per annum.

The vast majority of the 60,000 patients who receive emergency care per year do not pay.

In the meantime, patients who visit the hospital with non-life threatening matters will be deferred until the bed shortage improves.

Sands said this is the reason the PHA has advised the public to use the outlying clinics preferentially, as the wait times at PMH are up to 12 hours.

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