SWMCOL suffers $.5m in damage during protests


A truck removes unburnt tyres from a SWCOL transfer facility on Tuesday as workers try to control a fire that was still burning on the compound after being set on fire during protests a day before. Photo by Sureash Cholai

CEO of the Solid Waste Management Company Ltd (SWMCOL) Kevin Thompson said a fire at its transfer facility in Sea Lots will cost the company more than $500,000 in building and equipment damage. The facility, which stores and recycles discarded tyres, was set ablaze during violent protests in the area on Monday.

In a telephone interview with Newsday on Tuesday, Thompson said the worker’s quarters and a $1 million tyre shredder were damaged by the fire. He added that a hole was also cut in the perimeter fence.

On Monday morning, residents of Sea Lots set fire to a mountain of tyres at the Pioneer Drive, Sea Lots, facility burning approximately 3,000 tyres. The arson attack was part of the residents’ call for justice over the police-involved killings of three people last Saturday.

Protesters burned tyres, blocked off the east- and west-bound lanes of the Beetham Highway along with the Priority Bus Route and Nelson and Duncan Streets, demanding justice for the deaths of Fabien Richards, 21, and 17-year-olds Leonardo Niko Williams and Isaiah Roberts.

The three were among six people shot at by police on Saturday. Of the survivors, two were arrested, and another, 16-year-old Malakai Glenn, was hospitalised.

All survivors have since been released from either hospital or police custody without charge.

The Police Complaints Authority is inviting anyone with information in relation to the shooting deaths, which police said was after a shootout and car chase, to come forward.

Thompson said there was also an attempt to break into the compound on Tuesday morning but that was stopped by security.

“The fire itself did damage our tyre shredder that we have on location. That piece of equipment is worth over a million dollars. We did have another piece of equipment on facility that is over $3 million worth. That one, thankfully, was not damaged.

“We are still assessing the damage to the million-dollar piece of equipment. The facility where we house our workers and where he house some of the supplies, those were indeed damaged by the fire.”

He added that further assessments would determine the full financial blow dealt to the state entity.

Thompson said the smoke emanating from the burning tyres was reduced significantly on Tuesday after the fire burned throughout Monday night and most of Tuesday morning.

He said SWMCOL is currently discussing partnering with private companies to shred the tyres as part of a recycling initiative. The shredded tyres will then be exported. He said SWMCOL no longer disposed of the tyres at the landfills as they could become a fuel source for fires there.

The discarded tyres are used for preventing soil erosion, he said, adding that an idea to use them along the eroding coastlines in the southern, northern and south-western part of Trinidad as artificial reefs was not supported by the Environmental Management Authority.

With Monday’s arson attack, Thompson said SWMCOL is considering storing the tyres at another location and possibly installing security cameras at Sea Lots.

Head of the Port of Spain Division Snr Supt Brandon John said, of the eight people arrested after Monday’s protest, one was charged with six offences. The Beetham resident is charged with possession of camouflage, resisting arrest, obstructing a police officer, insulting language, disorderly behaviour and escaping lawful custody.

John said, after Monday’s protest which began around 10 am and ended at about 3 pm, police continued its static patrols along the Beetham Highway. He said there was no need to increase patrols.

He added that a car that burned down on the NP Flyover on Tuesday morning was caused by mechanical malfunctioning and not further protests and he was keeping his “finger crossed” that there would not be further protests.

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