An immense abandoned landfill sits on a cliff and tons of waste is escaping into the sea, day after day. This is the sad observation that the inhabitants of Le Havre and surrounding areas have observed for several years now. Through the Surfrider Europe Seine Maritime chapter and its network of Coastal Defender volunteers on the ground, the NGO continues to put pressure on local actors involved to finally put an end to this environmental disaster.
Buried waste resurfaces
In the north of France, more precisely in Normandy in Le Havre, a former landfill worries local residents and citizen associations. Perched high on the cliffs of the Dollemard plateau, this gigantic open-air dump was abandoned after a major coastal collapse rendered it unusable in 1999. Due to the amount and exposure of the waste, Surfrider Coastal Defender’s are on high alert.
A total of 400,000 tons of waste have been deposited in this landfill over the last 60 years. Today, as the cliff continues to erode, buried waste is spewed out at sea daily with every high tide or storm event. Plastics, polystyrene and other macro-waste (scrap metal, construction waste, etc.) are then ejected into nature, with no effective way of recovering it once adrift.
Facing the emergency
To prevent pollution from spreading further, swift action must be taken. Especially since the cliffs of Dollemard have been classified as a Natura 2000 zone (“Littoral cauchois”) and listed in the Local Urbanism Plan (PLU) of the City of Le Havre as “remarkable natural sites”. This conservation status is due in particular to the exceptional flora and fauna found there, which could be in danger if the waste continues to flow into the sea.
Surfrider Europe has joined forces with the local collective ‘Stop à La Décharge de Dollemard”, which was created to put pressure on public authorities to take action. Although the subject has finally been put on the agenda by the city council, new impact studies have been requested that will certainly delay the decision further. It is unacceptable to conceive that the current situation could remain for even one year longer.
For the moment, two solutions have been presented by local authorities. The first, which is supported by Surfrider Europe, is an excavation of the site in order to remove all waste likely to pollute, costing between 7 and 15 Million Euro. The second, more expensive solution in the long-term, would be the construction of a dyke that would prevent the waves from reaching the cliff, to be redone every 4 years. Unfortunately, both are dependent on the upcoming municipal elections in 2020, and neither of them will happen if the new mayor and his team oppose it.
In the absence of a very necessary immediate excavation of the area, the members of the collective call for the implementation of emergency measures. Limiting the next spills of waste as much as possible and ensuring extra shore cleaning after every tide is the very least that should be done. Our main demand for an in-depth clean-up of the cliff without weakening it, nevertheless, remains the only real effective solution at this time.
In parallel with this consultation with elected representatives, events were organized to mark our commitment. Several beach clean up’s were held (Ocean Initiatives) to raise awareness, followed by a large gathering in a human chain. Cultural events have also been held, bringing together all inhabitants who are ready to protect their ocean.