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|Dirty Politics about Waste in France
An On-going True Story - by Cate Defrise, An American Expat in France
I used to think that France was a country with breathtaking views, clean countrysides and was truly based on their motto: Liberté Egalité Fraternité / Liberty Equality and Brotherhood.
So I moved to Burgundy, France.
The air is so clean you might not recognize it at first. It is so quiet, you can hear the "swoosh" from the wings of an eagle flying by. We found our great liberté, nice neighbors (which i suppose is our fraternité) and so for a short while we were happy. What about the égalité part? I'll get to that eventually.
Then we got the news: only three months after purchasing our home, we found out that a landfill would be installed just about two and half miles from our home. This wouldn't be just a harmless place where people bring recyclables and such, but a massive wasteland, the same size as 50 football fields - and filled with everything under the sun including asbestos, hazardous chemicals and radioactive waste.
We weren't happy about it, as you may very well imagine. So we've been protesting for the last 2 years about it.
We aren't alone and there are many people contesting these toxic pits, burners included! Yes, we know they have to put waste somewhere but geographically, our area is the least suitable for it. There are lots of natural springs and water wells and lakes? There are earth faults, which makes it extremely unsafe for a dump. You see, we live in a wetland, with earth made of sand and rocks that are more likely to spread toxic chemicals instead of retain and isolate it. Especially if there's an earthquake! Burgundy just isn't meant to stock harmful materials, that is, unless they want to contaminate the rest of France with deadly chemicals.
Did I mention the planned landfill is just next to a river called Alene? Alene joins the Loire, which is the second longest river in France. If logic serves us right, putting poisons next to a river that meets another big river could only mean, well, trouble. No, make that: devastation.
The area is also about 5 miles away from a spa village that treats children with severe respiratory illnesses. Pollution from the dump trucks and the gases released by the burners (methane, dioxin and other non-named substances) can't be all that great for people with lung problems. You think?
This is the series of events for this landfill as it works in France:
1. The dump company named, "Coved" wrote a proposal to request permission to install a landfill. This was sent to the region's "Prefet" (Prefect) which is the chief of police for the region's department, basically the state's representative in a department. He's the boss of all the mayors in the department as well.
2. After the Prefect received the dossier with the proposal, he set up a "public inquiry" where the public which began on March 22 and will go on until April 16. It is during the public inquiries that then and only then, the public has access to the dump company's proposal/dossier to read it. The public can read as much of the dossier as possible but can meet with the public inquiry commission members to ask questions about the landfill. They have supposedly studied the proposal in advance.The public can then demonstrate their opposition to the project and can make statements against it. The commission is supposed to notate all of the questions presented and should be taking notes about the discussions in the inquiries. The public can also write their concerns in a registry book that later goes into the file for the Prefet.
3. The public inquiry is the very last chance to oppose the project. After the public inquiries are over, the private citizen can do nothing more about it. The commission, made of 3 supposedly impartial people, then makes a recommendation to the Prefect. The Prefect can take the commission's recommendation into consideration or simply reject it. The Prefect makes the final decision about the project.
The process has endless amounts of snags especially the part where the Prefect can make any decision whatsoever.
But there's more.
We've been looking at the dump company's proposal dossier. The people at COVED have decided to call extremely harmful waste material, "non-dangerous waste." That term is legally allowed too in France. This happened after they lobbied and paid off some government official to change the term "last resort waste" to "non dangerous waste".
So yes, they can say that asbesto is non-dangerous (even though they should burn in hell for saying so). Other parts of the dossier was roughly and haphazardly thrown together as you can see error messages and just statements that contradict each other. Did they just cut and paste from an old dossier? NON! (I say sarcastically.) There are more lies.
Here are some of our favorite statements in the dossier from the brilliant genuises at Coved: 1) They have determined that there is only one insect at the proposed 47 hectares of land. Not one KIND of insect, but one insect total on the site, which is a forest. There's also one deer and one wild pig. Funny, too because I seem to recall there being some endangered animals in our area. Yeah, now they're REALLY endangered. So much for biodiversity in Burgundy! 2) There's a chateaux with a small lake just next to the proposed site and it's conveniently erased from the map in the dossier. Our friends who live there, weren't amused. 3) After a few studies of the land the company's "experts" have determined that the soil is favorable for a landfill of this nature. Uh huh. How convenient is that. Well, we were surveying the site and their samples of the land and guess what WE found? Rocks, sand and lots and lots of water. Strange how those extremely salient materials were mysteriously omitted from the "study."
The French state department in Burgundy is supposed to do a separate counter study, but they just wrote up a study and cut and pasted information from Coved's study. Are we seeing a pattern here or what?
I've left out lots of information because there is so much, so I wanted to try to condense it as much as possible here and just find the most relevant proof of our opposition. You do get the picture, right? Something smells like scandal...
We feel pretty helpless about this because even with all of the legitimate reasons for the decision makers to call it off, the project is still full speed ahead. We are trying our best to stop it. I want this event to be as publicized as possible to bring some transparency into the situation. So I'm posting about it.
Please. If you can in anyway help us, we'd be so very, very grateful to you. How can you help? Post about it on your blogs, sites, newspapers, journals, books etc. - and get the word out about the project so it gets more public attention. Contact us, too, if you can help in other ways. If the world is giving this project their unrelenting attention, it will be harder for multi-national corporations and politicians to get a dirty deal done.
If we have to fight for our égalité, so be it.