Friday, 24 August 2012

Odds and Ends: Asbestos and the Constables Submission


A Jersey campaign group says there are 217 containers with asbestos in at the Energy for Waste Plant.  Save Our Shoreline (SOS) initially thought there were 40 containers with the material in, but there is actually more than five times that amount. SOS are concerned the units are not air or watertight, meaning asbestos fibres could seep out into the atmosphere.  If they do and are inhaled they can cause lung damage, although the symptoms can take many years to appear. Deputy Kevin Lewis, the Transport and Technical Services Minister, confirmed to Channelonline there are 217 containers and that a long term solution to handling asbestos needs to be found. He said: "It was my election pledge to get rid of the toxic ash and asbestos from La Collette and I remain committed to doing that."  Deputy Lewis insists there is no short term danger in storing the asbestos in containers, but admits they are not a long term fix. He has set himself a target of finding an alternative method within the next twelve months. (1)

Deputy Lewis has stated that "They are getting old now, I am happy with it as it is, in a sense it is double wrapped and sealed in containers but the containers are starting to rust." (2)

So are we to believe the containers will remain safe? The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has a guideline on "Approved Asbestos Disposal Containers"

It notes that "Asbestos disposal containers do not have to be new. Containers may be used but must be in such a condition that
the structural integrity and impermeability of each container remains intact"(3). Important factors are that the containers are " free of all but minor rust" and "free of sharp creases and dents". Obviously the latter could impact on the wrapping material inside, if the dent caused the structural integrity of that to fail. It's not clear who can examine the containers at La Collette, or if there were any dents or creased, especially with the lifting of the containers, whether that would be reported on; it is certainly unlikely that it would appear in the public domain.

US Guidelines on hazardous waste also require that containers are labelled, not just of the kind of waste, but also the "Accumulation Date - the day, month and year that you first placed waste in the container" (3). Labels must be durable and not obscured by other markings.

Release of fibres or dust that could be inhaled is the main concern with waste asbestos. I've not been able to trace any incidents of storage containers breaking down, and causing environmental danger with asbestos, but there is, of course, always a first time. The longer the containers rust, the greater the risk to their structural integrity, whether in situ, or when attempts are made to move them.

Constables Again

It's been brought to my attention that Article 2(1) of the States of Jersey Law 2005 states the 12 Connétables are members of the States by virtue of their office. That Law states the Constitution of the States is as follows: "2 Constitution of the States (1) The States of Jersey are constituted as follows - - the Bailiff; - the Lieutenant-Governor; - 10 Senators, elected as provided by this Law; - the Connétables of the 12 Parishes of Jersey, who are members of the States by virtue of their office; - 29 Deputies, elected as provided by this Law; - the Dean of Jersey; - the Attorney General; - the Solicitor General. (2) All members of the States shall have the right to speak in the Assembly. (3) Only elected members shall have the right to vote in the Assembly." Under the definitions in that Law "elected member" means a Senator, Connétable or Deputy.

This means that while the Constables are "elected members" of the States under the definitions, it is "by virtue of their office" that they are members of the assembly. Now this may seem nit-picking, but the Constables are also members of other committees by virtue of their office - for example, the Constable of St Helier is the President ex-officio of the St Helier-Bad Wurzach Partnerschaft, and that of St Brelade is an honorary member of the St Aubin's Boat Owner's Association.

But it would be a strange use of language, surely, to say that they were "elected" to those bodies. If the Constable changes, the person taking over (by a public election for Constable) also appears as a member, but there is no specific election within the St Helier-Bad Wurzach Partnerschaft or the St Aubin's Boat Owner's Association. It is just that the Constable, whoever that might be, is a member. There is no election within the body itself.

So the presentation of the Committee of Constables which states that the Constable "is indeed elected to office in order with the Public Elections (Jersey) Law 2002" is in fact being rather disingenuous in its presentation. The procedure for elections is set out in the law, as it states "the same law which sets out the procedure for the ballot for the election of Senators and Deputies" - but they don't state that the reason why Constables are in the States is quite different, it is by virtue of their office. The said law, as in fact they point out, also lays down procedure for ballots for Procureurs du Bien Public and Centeniers, but they are not in the States. That part of the law is just about elections, not about membership of the assembly, which is stated elsewhere.

One oddity which no one has yet remarked upon was that the recent change in the law in May 2012, which revoked the Constables right to carry a warrant card, also gave the Procureur du Bien Public the ability to deputise for the Constable in the States if they are incapacitated for a long period, but because the position is an honorary one, they would not be paid. This seems a very bizarre situation, and singles out the Constables as quite different from the other classes of States member. I cannot think of any other government where members have effectively alternates to be present and vote in the States if they cannot be present because of incapacity. It is an anomaly which should be rectified if the Constables remain in the States.

I'm still in favour of retaining the Constables, for reasons stated clearly elsewhere in this blog, and I will not re-iterate my arguments. But if they do remain, they should do so on proper grounds, not on a spurious presentation to the Electoral Commission.

And why, oh why, did they end  by saying that the submission would "assist the Committee in its review in reaching a conclusion" which will "ensure the delivery of an effective and efficient public service at island and parochial level and provide 'joined up Government' for the benefit of all islanders". The banal phrasing and descent into cliché - "joined up government" does their submission no credit at all.



Save Our Shoreline (Jersey) said...

Just a point on the number of asbestos containers, Tony. We knew that there were many more than 40 containers- but not exactly how many. We estimated well over 150. It was Kevin Lewis who told both CTV and the JEP that there were 40, to change this later (no doubt when his officers had enlightened him ) to the figure of 217.

Anonymous said...

Banal the phrase may be, but the lack of consistent policy across Jersey's broken political structures is far too important to ignore. If it isn't fixed - and fast - Jersey will fail as a state, and it will end up as a minor province of England.

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