Inaction baffles clean-up committee

Back on its feet and with a Royal visit from Prince Edward imminent, Grand Cayman needs to shape up, says Island Beautification Committee chair Heather Bodden.

Alan Clarence loads bulk waste in West Bay

Solid Waste Supervisor Mitchell Hurlston looks on as Alan Clarence loads bulk waste in West Bay. Working non-stop for the past four weeks the Department of Environmental Health has been helping residents get rid of post-Ivan and other trash with free pickups. The DoEH reports about 100 tons of waste items were collected, including a first for the crews, a full septic tank. Photo: Basia Pioro

While it’s now been two years since Ivan left the Island blanketed in debris, the Committee, whose mandate is to keep Cayman clean and green, is concerned that some residents have come up short on doing their part.

‘Certainly there has been a marked improvement in the tidiness of the Island in the past months, and we see many people taking advantage of the current bulk waste pickup campaign,’ said Ms Bodden.

‘But some people are still refusing to clean up their properties, which makes you wonder if they are seeing what everyone else is seeing.’

The 10-member Grand Cayman Beautification Committee was established in 2005 by the Ministry of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce to coordinate post-Ivan cleanup.

Its initial mandate after Ivan was dealing with the overwhelming amount of trash still strewn about, and it was a massive undertaking to get the clean-up kick-started by prioritizing what needed to be done.

The Committee’s most recent campaign was undertaken in anticipation of the FCCA Conference which took place this past October.

But the Committee’s efforts have only focused on certain areas of the Island, leaving others untouched.

Now action is being taken to implement the second phase of the cleanup, targeting individual homeowners as well as encouraging district-wide efforts.

Ms Bodden says that while there has been a dramatic change in the Island’s appearance since the first post-Ivan months, there is still a lot to be done.

‘We need all people who live and reside in this country to take ownership of its appearance,’ she said.

It is the responsibility of property owners to clean up any mess, whether it was left by a hurricane or not, and she says she’s baffled by the lack of action the Committee is seeing from some people.

‘I’m concerned. How people can live in such conditions is beyond me and Government should recognize the wider implications of rundown properties.’

Common excuses the Committee has heard include that it is Government’s responsibility to clean up the mess left by Ivan on private property, that homeowners can’t afford it, or that if they didn’t put the debris there in the first place then it was not their responsibility to clean it up.

One major concern is that some people can’t be bothered because they think if another hurricane hits, all their efforts will be pointless.

Ms Bodden says the argument can have dangerous consequences, as during a hurricane any loose items lying around turn into flying missiles.

Department of Environmental Health Director Roydell Carter says the requirements for the condition and appearance of a property when it comes to trash and debris comes under the public health law of 2002, which states a property must be clean and free of litter.

‘Not only will cleaning up a property have a positive contribution on the aesthetics of our Island, it also benefits public health,’ he said.

‘Even if you have missed the Department’s bulk waste pick up, there is still time to get your property cleaned up in time for New Year’s and we urge people to take the initiative and take their trash to the landfill site – the drop-off area is open 24/7.’

At present, when a property is deemed to be violating regulations and orders to clean up are ignored, an abatement notice will be served by the Department of Environment.

‘While we have been working as much as possible with households seen to be experiencing trouble cleaning up their properties, we can, have been, and will continue to serve abatement notices to people seen contravening public health regulations,’ said Mr. Carter.

Ms Bodden would like to see the Island’s litter laws going even further.

She says that considering the Department is doing all it can under current regulations, the answer lies in amendments, which the Committee will be making public very soon.

‘We want everyone who lives here, be it Caymanians, residents or work permit holders, to have a clear understanding of what is acceptable,’ she said.

As chair and speaking on behalf of her committee members, Ms Bodden says the group will not be backing down on seeing changes in the way poorly-maintained properties are dealt with.

‘We have already presented our findings and recommendations to Government this past October and we are going to continue to lobby them so they are aware of our wishes and efforts,’ she said.

She also urges all Ministries to take an interest in getting the Island properly cleaned up.

‘Cleaning up hurricane debris is certainly a cosmetic issue,’ said Ms Bodden, ‘but it’s also a health, environmental, crime and education issue.’

‘Our hope is that by the time the Prince arrives, the island will be immaculate and we will be able to roll out the red carpet with pride.’

She remarked that in other parts of the world like Switzerland, Holland and Singapore, extremely strict litter laws are in place, and it shows.

‘I’m not advocating for such extreme measures here,’ she said, ‘but we do need to be doing more than we are now. And if I don’t do something about it, who will?’

Some districts are receiving kudos from the Committee for their exceptional efforts.

North Side has an ongoing program where the overall appearance of the district is being actively addressed, including such features as a new fountain at the entrance to create a sense of place and community.

‘We hope every district will follow North Side’s example by paying more attention to its overall appearance,’ she said.

‘A little friendly competition can go a long way.’

Ms Bodden hopes her passion for regaining a pristine Island will catch on once people see the benefits.

‘I see it as a question of civic pride, cleanliness and conscientiousness,’ she said.

‘It’s about how we are presenting ourselves to the rest of the world.’