Commuters travelling along Cemetery Road yesterday afternoon were for a period of time immersed in the smoky results of fires which had been set in Le Repentir Cemetery by a contractor or contractors hired by the city.
The contractors, who have been retained as part of the multi-million-dollar project to create a Clean and Green City, have been burning the debris from their efforts, mostly grass and other plant material, in the cemetery.
This action has resulted in destruction of several of the tombs in the cemetery as well as the emission of blankets of smoke in an area that for years suffered as a result of emissions from a constantly burning Le Repentir dumpsite.
When Stabroek News visited the area, there were at least five fires burning in different blocks of the cemetery. There was also evidence that other fires had previously been burning; mounds of black ashes could be seen around the area. One group of fires was burning in proximity to a garbage skip which had been designated for the disposal of the debris.
While commuters were distressed, residents in the area were unperturbed. Several residents had not even noticed the smoke while one resident, who wished not to be identified, said that these fires were nothing compared to what they had to endure from the dumpsite.
“This is nothing. It not even comparable to the fires we used to had from the dumpsite when you could come over the bridge from de West Coast and the fumes reaching you till dey. The whole place use to clog up. This is nothing,” he said.
City Hall was not so flippant. Rasheed Kellman, Deputy Chief Engineer (ag), told Stabroek News that the contractors had already been warned not to burn the debris.
“We already told them that if they burn it, we will have to surcharge them. The contracts provide for us to penalise them, to deduct some money from them if they negatively impact the environment,” he said.
He explained that the contractors had previously encountered bees and had decided to smoke out the insects.
“After they smoke out the insects, some of them use the opportunity to continue burning instead of paying to have the debris removed,” Kellman said.
Stabroek News was told that the burning of debris increased after City Hall stopped providing free disposal services. Before last Friday, the city had provided contractors with a free pick up and disposal services but contractors are now being asked to pay for disposal.
City Hall Public Relations Officer Debra Lewis, when contacted about the smoke and its possible effects on the surrounding communities, expressed sympathy for the affected residents.
“City Hall apologises to those residents who were affected and promises that every measure will be put in place to prevent this from happening again,” she said.
Once notified of the issues, Lewis personally contacted the Guyana Fire Service and requested that assistance in extinguishing the fires. By this time, however, Kendall had also contacted the contractors and directed them to do the same.
When Stabroek News returned to the area, all the fires had been extinguished.