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Seattle Plans Garage Shipments to Keep Marshall Islands above Water

March 11, 1989

SEATTLE (AP) _ Dan Fleming wants to ship West Coast garbage to the Marshall Islands, which he says would keep the dots of dry land in the South Pacific from being submerged by rising water from the greenhouse effect.

But environmentalists say the plan is just a way to make a profit by unloading garbage on a poor country.

Fleming admits he thought the idea was ″total insanity″ when he first heard it. Now he’s pushing it as vice president of Admiralty Pacific Inc., whose principals claim to have seven contracts already to take compacted trash from Washington, Oregon and California 5,000 miles to the Pacific island chain.

In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from his office in San Francisco, Fleming refused to identify the parties to the seven contracts but said some were private trash haulers and landfill operators.

Under the plan, starting in 1990, compacted municipal waste - nothing hazardous or toxic - would be loaded on ships in Seattle and then used to fill lagoons in the island republic, he said.

Despite the global warming anticipated from the greenhouse effect, and the resulting melting of polar ice and rising of sea levels by several feet, the islands would thus remain above water.

The Marshalls would get $16 million a year for accepting the garbage, Admiralty Pacific would make about $22 million a year and the garbage problems of the West Coast would be solved - if the plan works.

″Some think the project is total insanity and so did I, when I first got involved in it,″ Fleming said.

Admiralty’s proposal ″is part of a whole grim scheme of things,″ said Ann Leonard, a researcher for the environmental group Greenpeace. ″A lot of these exports are increasing as a result of the high costs of waste disposal.″

She said the plan seemed to follow a pattern in which private companies offer lots of money to a poor country to take waste that’s too expensive to dump in the United States.

″Their desire for cash is going to outweigh any environmental impacts,″ Leonard said. ″They are forced to make a choice between poison and poverty.″

Fleming explained that the garbage would be spread in a 12-acre warehouse and swept with electromagnets to extract iron and steel, workers who paid Admiralty Pacific for the privilege would then scour the refuse for aluminum and the remaining trash would be compressed into one-ton bales and wrapped in plastic.

Hazardous household materials like solvents, cleansers, paints and batteries would ″hopefully″ be removed by the electromagnets or the hand- pickers, but ″I’m not going to tell you it’s perfect,″ Fleming said. ″There just aren’t any guarantees in life.″

The bales would be carried on ships with double-lined hulls, and landfills in the Marshalls would be lined and include plumbing to siphon off any leaching materials, he added. The leachates would be burned as fuel since they’re usually petroleum-based, he added.

Fleming said he could make a profit while paying $50 a ton for garbage, a third to a quarter of the hauling costs paid by many cities.

He added that it would cost about $20 million to build port facilities at Majuro, capital atoll of the Marshalls and home to about half the republic’s 31,000 residents.

Majuro has 2.5 square miles of dry land. The entire republic, comprising two chains of small islands, has 72 square miles of land.

The Marshall Islands depend heavily on U.S. aid through rent for a military base and compensation for damage from atomic bomb testing in the 1940s.

Admiralty Pacific president James A. Thompson, who was in the Marshall Islands during World War II, ″has been toying with the project for about two years,″ Fleming said.

Thompson, listed on incorporation documents as the president, secretary, treasurer, registered agent and only director of Admiralty Pacific, did not return telephone calls Thursday. Fleming said there were other directors but refused to name them.

Fleming said he and other investors were willing to spend as much as $3 million for an environmental impact statement to assure the republic that the dumping would be safe while increasing the land mass of the islands five times in two decades.

A letter signed in October by Marshall Islands President Amata Kabua granted Admiralty Pacific an exclusive arrangement, but telephone interviews with other officials indicated some confusion about how it was being handled.

Robert Kelen, general manager of the republic’s Environmental Protection Authority, said he would review the impact statement and make a recommendation to the president’s cabinet on whether to accept the proposal.

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