Even though the Cayman Islands government cut a $40,000 cheque to Water Authority-Cayman in October for the emergency repair of failing wastewater systems at Randyke Gardens, the work was delayed for months, due to reasons such as the strata’s non-payment of electric bills and inability to sign a maintenance contract with a service provider.
In the meantime, about 15,000 gallons of untreated sewage was being discharged onto the ground each day, according to minutes of the Water Authority Board meetings released in response to a Freedom of Information request. The authority’s Deputy Director Tom van Zanten said the strata was finally in compliance with the necessary conditions as of 27 February, and that the wastewater system should be operational by the end of April.
The raw sewage discharge was first reported to officials in January 2011.
The strata repeatedly missed deadlines set in order to qualify for the assistance. In October, the board learned the strata had not been paying its bills from the Caribbean Utilities Company for the four electric metres connected to the complex’s eight wastewater systems. The east George Town development comprises 10 buildings with 80 units, plus additional unapproved structures.
According to the minutes of the board’s 19 October meeting, the authority was concerned that if the strata did not pay for the electricity to run the wastewater systems, they would fail quickly after government-funded repairs. If that happened, the authority would ask for the matter to be prosecuted for violation of the Water Authority Law or for government to consider condemning the development “as it is unsuitable for human habitation”.
According to the Water Authority Law, the violation of discharging raw sewage onto the ground carries a penalty of a fine of $6,000 and one year’s imprisonment.
The board set a deadline of 10 working days for compliance before the authority would recommend that the government withdraw its offer to assist.
However, “The Ministry [of District Administration, Works, Lands and Agriculture] subsequently asked the authority to hold off on this notice as other options were being explored to assist Randyke Gardens,” according to the minutes of the board’s next meeting 16 November.
On 4 November, Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, along with officials from the authority and government, met with strata Chairman Mitchell Bodden. At the meeting, it was determined that the complex had issues relating to wastewater, planning violations and environmental health. “It was also determined that the strata owed government substantial fees as they had not repaid any part of the $440,000 government loan for the new wastewater treatment system that was installed in 2007. The strata also owes substantial garbage fees (nearly $400,000) to the Department of Environmental Health,” according to the minutes.
The deputy premier set a deadline of 30 November for remedying the violations.
On 23 November, Mr. Bodden asked for an extension of the deadline, saying the owners and tenants wanted to address the situation but did not have enough time or money. The authority extended the deadline to 15 December, according to the minutes of the authority’s 14 December meeting.
Authority staff carried out a site inspection 12 December, finding that only two of the eight wastewater systems were working properly. Preliminary measures taken by the strata had mixed results, as heavy equipment had damaged some of the sewerage equipment.
“In addition it was noticed that trenches were excavated to drain the untreated wastewater from the pre-tanks into the adjacent swamp. Of concern is that the owner of the property directly east of Randyke Gardens has submitted plans to the Planning Department for affordable housing on that property and the discharge of untreated wastewater onto this property is therefore an issue that needs immediate attention,” according to the minutes.
In mid-December, Satinwood Gate Ltd. received planning permission for a 31-lot subdivision, including 24 lots for duplexes and five for apartments, on 8.9 acres adjacent to Randyke Gardens.
The authority extended the deadline to 10 January, 2012, stipulating that the strata would restore power to all of the wastewater treatment systems, sign a contract with a service provider for maintenance, and set up a system for monthly collection of funds from strata members.
According to the minutes of the board’s 25 January meeting, Mr. Bodden claimed that he never received the December letter from the authority or two subsequent reminders. In response, the board set a “final deadline” of 2 February.
The board convened again 8 February. According to the minutes of the meeting, staff had inspected the site on 3 February, determining the situation was unchanged since 12 December: “Raw sewage continues to be discharged onto the ground and into adjacent properties. One of the four CUC meters is still inactive. The developer of the property east of Randyke Gardens has commenced the construction of a road in his property, this will block the flow of sewage and it will now accumulate on Randyke Gardens property. The illegal discharge of raw sewage is now going on for over one year.”
On 6 February, Mr. Bodden told the authority that the strata was making progress. He said an electrician had been identified and the electric bills had been paid. The strata had signed a quarterly maintenance contract with a service provider (although the authority’s requirement was for a monthly contract).
According to the minutes, “As the strata has made some effort to address the issues, the authority would suggest that upon verification with the electrician that power is restored to the last electricity meter, the repair work should commence in order to be completed before the rainy season.”
The board decided to give the strata an extra week to get the remaining meter up and running.
Mr. van Zanten said the authority was notified 27 February that electricity had been restored to all of the wastewater treatment systems, and consequently the matter was not referred to the attorney general. In early March, authority staff inspected the systems.
He said, “Most of the repair work will be carried out using Water Authority in-house resources and equipment. Unfortunately, during the last two weeks most of these resources were committed to other (regular Water Authority) tasks. However, it is anticipated that barring unforeseen circumstances the wastewater system should be operational, although not necessarily fully restored, by the end of this month.”