Saturday, May 13, 2017

Garbage capitalism

Up to 1992, waste collecting in Donegal was carried out by the county council. From then on, the council withdrew, as elsewhere, opening the way for privately-operated companies.  Rossbracken is an 11-acre site that houses the headquarters of two companies controlled by Jim Ferry – Ferry’s Refuse Collection Limited and Ferrys Refuse Recycling Limited. Today, his companies have close to 40 per cent of the business in some parts of the county, informed sources say, collecting from nearly 11,000 homes and 500 businesses.

But by the end of the 1990s, Ferry was emerging as a serial polluter. Far from being penalised, however, Ferry continued to win three- and five-year permits from a regulatory system that appeared blind to his actions.
In January 2000, Ferry faced multiple charges at Falcarragh District Court relating to separate activities in January 1999, between March and April 1999, and between June and July 1999, plus five breaches of regulations throughout 1999.

The January charges, on which he was convicted, related to illegal dumping causing pollution at Lough Agher in Creeslough. The March/April charges, on which he was convicted, also related to illegal dumping causing pollution at Moyra Glebe. The June/July charges, on which he was likewise convicted, related to two separate incidents of illegal dumping causing pollution, also at Moyra Glebe.

The breaches of regulations, for which he was also convicted, related to his failure to maintain a register that listed the type and amount of waste collected; its treatment and its final destination.
For the illegal dumping, Ferry was given two separate jail sentences of two months each, with both suspended for five years, and was also fined IR£1,000 (€1,270) and IR£1,000 costs. For failing to keep a register, he was fined IR£300.

If these convictions were meant to be a deterrent, they failed.

In January 2005 at Letterkenny District Court, Ferry was again convicted of illegal dumping in 2003 and 2004, and failing to operate according to his permit. He was given a six month prison sentence, suspended for five years and fined €4,000 plus €2,532 in costs.

In October 2013, Ferry was convicted yet again of illegal dumping in June 2010 and this time was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years and fined €3,000 plus €30,750 in costs.

At the same sitting, he was convicted of a separate incident of illegal dumping and breaching the terms of his permit, also in June 2010, and was likewise sentenced to six months, suspended for two years, and fined €3,000. He was further convicted of failing to comply with orders issued by the Council under the Waste Management Act 1996 and was fined €3,000.

None of these convictions led to him being banned as a waste collector.

Neither did his run-in with the Revenue Commissioners in August 2012 over using agricultural diesel in his trucks, nor the multiple road traffic convictions involving his trucks.

In November 2012, Donegal County Council granted Ferry’s company, Ferry’s Refuse Collection Limited, a permit to operate the facility at Rossbracken. When Ferry did use landfill sites run by Donegal County Council to dispose of waste legally, he frequently did not bother paying the bill. In October 2006, the council got a High Court judgment against him for unpaid bills. By April 2015, he owed €227,750. Ferry agreed to pay €800 a week. For a time, he kept his word, making 83 instalments until, on November 15th, 2016, payments suddenly stopped.

By dumping waste illegally, by not paying landfill charges and by not telling Donegal County Council where he was disposing of his waste, Jim Ferry was saving himself a lot of money. While costs vary, the price for legally disposing of a ton of black bin waste is around €120. It costs €60 to collect it. The total costs facing the company run to €180 a ton. Outside of Dublin, households in rural areas and large provincial towns produce a ton of black bin waste a year. Ferry’s currently charge house-owners €240 a year, suggesting a profit margin of some €60 – if the waste is disposed of legally. But, if the landfill charge is not paid, because the waste is tipped into an illegal landfill, Ferry’s profit rises by a further €120.

This is the uneven playing field that for years has faced reputable waste collection companies operating in Donegal. By 2014, they had had enough. A number approached the Irish Waste Management Association (IWMA), urging action against Ferry.  Soon, evidence began to emerge of illegal dumping of waste on an industrial scale in a Special Area of Conservation. Rossbracken holds 28,000 and 36,000 tons of illegally-dumped waste that will cost between €4.5 million and €5.8m to clean up. 

On July 1st, 2014, the NWCPO refused to renew the permit held by Ferry’s Refuse Collection Ltd, deeming Ferry to be no longer a “fit and proper person” to run such a business.
It was the first time such an action was taken, according to Leo Duffy, the NWCPO manager. Eight days later, however, Ferry activated a hitherto dormant company, Ferrys Refuse Recycling Limited, from which he resigned as a director to be replaced by Carol Elliott, who shares the same home address as Ferry himself and is understood to be his life partner. The other director is Louise Ferry, Ferry’s daughter. This company, which shares an address, all related facilities and staff with the company that had been refused a collection permit, applied for one. The NWCPO granted the licence on June 5th, 2015.

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