Friday, August 24, 2012

Mérida faces "environmental catastrophe," warns official, as trash piles up and residents hit the ceiling

"Mérida's trash problem is the checkmate in the abandonment of this city," - a former Mérida mayor

Mérida, Yucatán --
A state planning and urban development official says that Mérida faces environmental disaster, as trash goes uncollected in many neighborhoods and the municipal governing body is forced to rely upon overburdened disposal sites which are like "time bombs," according to a local news service.

The city has resorted to dumping trash at several waste sites on the outskirts of town which were closed months ago when they reached their limit. Those sites could contaminate cenotes and underground water sources, and they pose a potential risk to nearby communities, he claims.

The comments were made by the secretary of a state environmental monitoring agency, SEDUMA (Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Medio Ambiente del Gobierno del Estado). But the official said that legally his agency's "hands were tied," leaving him no option other than a report to media sources.

As MGRR reported two days ago, Mérida is facing a major trash collection crisis after failing to pay its private contractors for months. One of those contractors stopped providing service several days ago (Yucatán state and municipal debt continue to rise, with predictable consequences).

According to today's Diario de Yucatán, Mérida's principal daily paper, the city has contracts with three private waste collectors, and owes each one between two and three million pesos. At the current exchange rate, that's an aggregate unpaid trash bill of $462,000 to $692,000 dollars.

In addition, the city owes 30 million pesos - $2.3 million dollars - to the owner of a private sanitary landfill which was just opened in February. The owner, a company called Setasa, locked the city out recently, forcing the municipal government to return to former trash sites which were closed when they reached maximum capacity. The SEDUMA official says those old sites are showing signs of insect and rodent infestation, and present significant environmental hazards to nearby towns.

The Yucatán capital, which can't meet its current obligations as they come due, owes its bankers about $6 million dollars in long-term debt. City government is under the control of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which captured the presidency in Mexico's July 1 election. But a National Action Party (PAN) candidate won the mayoral race, and will take the municipal reins on Sept. 1.

PAN mayor-elect Renan Barrera Concha said yesterday that members of his new administration have been meeting with private waste disposal contractors in an effort to restore normal service as quickly as possible. Barrera Concha promised that companies contracted by the city would be paid promptly, and said that the problem "should be resolved" within a month after he takes office.

Barrers Concha criticized remarks of the city's interim mayor, who assumed office after former PRI mayor Angelica Arajuo resigned in January to run for Mexico's Senate. The interim PRI mayor has suggested that the trash issue is not a major problem. "I think you have to get out onto the streets and see things, and listen to the people," countered the mayor-elect.

Yucatán governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco expressed impatience with the situation yesterday, noting that state public works trucks and personnel have been enlisted to help with Mérida's trash problem, a task which draws them away from state projects. She also urged Setasa officials to show "social responsibility and accept waste" at the new landfill until the matter of the city's unpaid bill is resolved.

In some parts of Mérida this week, angry citizens have tossed bags of uncollected trash into streets to block traffic flow. The impromptu protests have kept municipal police and city workers busy trying to maintain order, while the daily rubbish of a million person metropolis continues to pile up in dozens of neighborhoods. When, and how, the huge trash bills will be paid is the question on many minds.

Oct. 13 - Mérida's largest private trash collector says the city owes it 1.7 million pesos, just for the months of June through September. That's over $130,000, and it's a problem not only for city fathers, but for the company, too. Gasoline vendors have given the company an ultimatum for payment of fuel sold on credit. Pesos go round and round in the economy, but nobody in Yucatán seems to have very many these days.
Aug. 28 - Mérida has paid each of its three trash collectors part of what it owes. But one company complains that while it has received 404,000 pesos ($31,000 dollars), the city still has a balance of $1.2 million pesos ($92,300 dollars). All the contractors have resumed work, it appears. And the PRI city administration - with just 72 hours left in office - continues to blame the whole mess on PAN. A normal day in the City of Peace.
Aug. 26 - Trash problems spread to Progreso.
Aug. 25 - Mérida's PRI interim mayor, who has less than a week remaining in office, claims that trash is being picked up in most areas on schedule, with slight delays in some neighborhoods. He also says PAN operatives have been driving around town tossing trash bags into city streets, to "stain" his party's final days in office. Both sides agree that the state government has assumed responsibility for collecting much of the trash which was ignored by unpaid city contractors in recent days.
Aug. 24 - Mérida owes $25 million pesos - $1.92 million dollars - to companies which clean up and service city parks. They haven't been paid since March, and many employees have been terminated as a result. Little wonder that 48% of the state's population live below the official poverty line.
Aug. 23 - La zona oriente de Mérida, un auténtico basurero
Aug. 22 - Trash piles up in Mérida.

Yucatán governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco (r) and former Mérida mayor Angelica Arajuo (l) were both on the bridge as basic municipal services went unpaid in the state's capital, and Colombian singer Shakira was wired a cool $1.75 million to entertain city residents for 100 minutes. What neither PRIsta saw was the huge financial iceberg dead ahead.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps everyone should take their trash to the mayor's house. Her neighborhood, no doubt, is still enjoying trash pickup.