By Tabora Bojang
A coalition of neighbours has petitioned the National Environment Agency, calling for the relocation of Gam Brick Fab, a brick processing factory which they said is located in the middle of a residential area, overburdening the neighbourhood with unbearable “noise pollution and vibrations ” that are causing “cracks on properties, leading to leakage of roofs, and changes in electricity voltages.”
The petition, signed by coalition chairman Mustapha Conteh, addressed to the Ministry of Environment and copied to the National Environment Agency, the Geology Physical Planning and Social Security, alleged that the company’s operations have also turned the place into a mining area due to the constant deposition of gravel, sand and basalt while increases in truck traffic are damaging the topography. “In addition, there are two cemeteries also located approximately 35-40 metres away from the site,” the group said.
They further contended that numerous complaints to state agencies to use all tools at their disposal to address this phenomenon but “the factory is still operating” despite promises by the NEA to act.
According to the coalition, they have also sought clarifications from Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation as to why the site was being used for industrial purposes in a residential area but the corporation responded that they were only responsible for the allocation but it was the responsibility of NEA to regulate what kind of companies should operate in residential areas.
“A similar company was forced to leave the area and for some reason, this company still operates. We don’t know why. We have come to a conclusion that we will take legal action against Gam Brick if the national institutions which are mandated to protect lives and livelihoods fail to act in accordance with laws of our land,” the coalition bemoaned in their letter.
The Standard contacted the senior program officer at Environment Impact Assessment Unit of the National Environment Agency, Lamin Samateh who said as far as the Agency is concerned, the Gam Brick Fab company is “not operating legally.”
“We gave them a provisional approval to allow them to operate on conditions that operations are going to be strictly limited during the day and they will have to eventually find a suitable site to move their production to,” Samateh stated. Asked if the provisional approval was time-bound, he said: “Yes, it is time-bound and as far as we are concerned, they are not legal because this [approval] has expired since 2022. And we did not renew it. They were meant to leave that place because it is not an industrial area.”
He said following the receipt of complaints from neighbours, the NEA had embarked on its own findings and made visits to the site which led to it being sealed in order to cease operations. “But they have removed those seals and went into operations,” Samateh alleged.
According to the senior EIA officer, the NEA has since written a stop notice to the company to cease operations, and it has other options to either prosecute, enforce closure or write to the Attorney General and request for public interest actions to be taken. “Before them, there were some people there and we asked them to relocate and they did without any problems,” Samateh said.
In a stop notice dated 2 March 2021 seen by The Standard, the NEA wrote to the company asking it to among things cease all brick processing activities on the site and evacuate all equipment therein with immediate effect. In this letter, the Agency accused Gam Brick of violating the National Environment Management Act and the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations by operating without an environmental approval, while urging it to comply with the notice to avoid further actions.
In what it considered a defiance, the Agency issued a “warning letter” dated July 26 2021 in which reference was made to its Stop Notice for Gam Bricks to cease operations, an EIA application by the said company, a stakeholders visit to the site and the visit by the Executive Director of the NEA in June 2021.
The Agency stated in this letter that following its investigation into the complaints of heavy noises generated by the company, sound measurements taken were found to be above the maximum, requirement of more than 100 decibels at some 100m away from the source site.
The letter added: “The Agency is dismayed at your conduct dated the 1st of June 2021 wherein the seal object used to suspend the Gam Bricks Fab from operation was interfered with. This is an offence, and therefore in no unequivocal terms, you are hereby warned and urged to adhere to the latest communication sent to you titled ‘provisional environmental approval dated 14th June 2021’ in which you are required to act in accordance with the recommendations therein. You are hereby strongly advised to abide by the due process as this is the final step by the Agency in its quest to regulate your activities according to established procedures. Warned that the conditions of the provisional approval will be strictly monitored and failure to adhere may result in legal actions against you.”
The Standard visited the site to seek responses from the company but its proprietor, Isatou Njie, said she does not wish to make any comments on the matter. “Since they have made their complaints to the authorities, I cannot say anything until they decide but you can write whatever you want to write.”