Today’s Editorial for February 5: One man’s junk

Back in the days before Hurricane Ivan’s destructive force created tons upon tons of construction waste and scrap metal on Grand Cayman, there was a simple plan to deal with at least one aspect of the island’s growing problem with solid waste.

The government of Cuba had expressed an interest in obtaining the old junked vehicles taking up huge amounts of space at the George Town Landfill. The proposed deal supposedly was for the Cubans to collect the cars, free of cost, and take them away, free of cost.

It seemed like a fairly good deal because the Cubans got something they needed – old cars which could be used for parts and scrap metal – and the Cayman Islands got to reduce the amount of waste at a rapidly overflowing landfill.

Although the proposed deal never came to fruition, the premise of letting someone come and take away the vehicles for free seemed reasonable.

After Ivan destroyed some 10,000 vehicles and left the island with mountains of scrap metal, Minister of Infrastructure Arden McLean got the idea that the scrap metal was worth a lot of money. With metal commodity prices rising, the scrap had in fact become valuable.

In November 2006, the government put the removal contract out to tender and a month later Mr. McLean said the government expected to receive at least $300,000 for the scrap metal at the landfill.

Somehow that $300,000 amount ballooned to a $1.25 million contract with Matrix International, and Mr. McLean boasted about what a good deal he got for the country.

The only problem is, Matrix found out it cost much more than they anticipated to hire local truckers and other sub-contractors to get the metal baled, hauled to the cargo port, loaded onto ships and taken to the United States. In the end, Matrix paid only $310,000 of the contract price before the government terminated the contract and locked them out of the landfill.

Matrix also left many subcontractors unpaid for their work, and, most importantly, left a mountain of scrap metal at the landfill.

Efforts to re-tender the contract for the remaining scrap metal failed, probably because companies realised of the high cost of actually paying for everything it takes to ship the materials out of Cayman.

The last re-tendering occurred when commodity prices where soaring. With the global economy still sinking, those commodities prices have now plummeted.

In the meantime, the scrap metal heap at the landfill continues to grow by the day and the possibilities of having someone actually pay to remove the scrap are probably low.

What seemed to be a case of ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ has turned in to ‘one man’s junk is a country’s burden’.

Maybe it is time to contact the Cubans again. Better yet, there’s a man in East End who says he is ready to take the scrap metal right now.