The ruling Progressives government will deal with the George Town landfill problem “in situ,” meaning it will remain where it is, government minister Osbourne Bodden confirmed Friday in an address to the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly.
Though the identification of any potential solution for the ever-widening, 80-foot high pile of trash in the center of Grand Cayman’s largest residential and business district is far away, Mr. Bodden noted that any proposal would have to be undertaken in a public-private partnership arrangement and follow proper bidding procedures according to a U.K.-ordered fiscal framework.
“The urgency of this matter has not escaped us,” said Mr. Bodden, who has responsibility for the Department of Environmental Health, which runs the islands’ dump sites.
“Our government has identified a comprehensive waste management system as a project of national importance,” he added.
In December 2013, Cabinet approved general policy guidance for the project. Those guidelines set out that government would provide the Cayman Islands with a “sound and cost-effective means” to manage the disposal of all solid waste and that any solution must be done at no greater cost than what is currently spent on solid waste management.
Long-term plans for public waste would include recycling and could involve waste-to-energy options, Minister Bodden said. “Waste-to-energy is the way we would like to see this go,” he said.
However, Mr. Bodden said he would not rule out other options if they made more financial sense for government.
To assist with getting the project off the ground, Mr. Bodden said he had formed a steering committee consisting mainly of civil servants, but also a few private sector representatives. The committee will perform exhaustive research, including travel to a number of other landfill sites to observe best practices and standards, as well as review information already compiled for former Works Minister and East End MLA Arden McLean’s administration.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush asked Mr. Bodden if private sector representatives and outside experts in the field of solid waste management would advise the steering committee in its work. Mr. Bodden said that expertise would be co-opted as government moved through the planning process.
A time-line for the overall project would depend on the committee’s work, as well as the requirements for bidding contained in the U.K.-approved Framework for Fiscal Responsibility, Minister Bodden said.
“My own time-line is within a matter of two years from now. I want action on that landfill, I want things happening there … and a project under way,” he said.
What a dump!
Mr. McLean said he noted on a recent visit to the landfill the shabby shape of the Department of Environmental Health’s waste management equipment and the general disorganization of the landfill site.
“In certain areas, there were two or three inches of oil floating on the ground,” Mr. McLean said. “The [garbage] shredder that I bought in the waning hours of my tenure has not been working for a couple of years.”
Mr. McLean said part of the problem is that regular maintenance is not being performed on some of the equipment. “We work them until they break down and then we have the black plumes of smoke over George Town.”
The East End MLA was referring to a massive landfill fire Dec. 20 that involved burning tires and oil, sending a column of smoke over George Town district.
Mr. Bodden has said he was aware previously of some environmental health equipment at the landfill not working and described the situation as “less than satisfactory.”
“Often I think the equipment is broken because of reckless behavior,” Mr. Bodden said.
When the minister was at the landfill the day of the Dec. 20 fire, he said one of the workers told him the engine for an excavator used to clear trash piles out of the way had been sent to Brazil. This was apparently done for maintenance, but Minister Bodden said he was unsure exactly what had occurred.
Firefighters told the Caymanian Compass on Dec. 20 that two excavators that were needed to get to the source of the huge tire fire had broken down.
Aside from the fire issues, Minister Bodden said the out-of-service equipment means that garbage in some areas is piling up and can’t be arranged in a way that allows environmental health crews to put it in the proper location.
“Are you going to fire the [environmental health department] director?” North Side MLA Ezzard Miller asked.
“I don’t want anyone thinking … that we can just disregard what is there [at the landfill] now,” Mr. Bodden said. “It didn’t happen overnight the way it is now.”
The government has been aware since last June of a growing problem with old and rundown vehicles, particularly in the Department of Environmental Health.
An Internal Audit Unit review completed in June 2013 identified “a growing fleet of dilapidated vehicles, most of which are attributed to the Department of Environmental Health, the Health Services Authority and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.”
“These entities’ vehicles consume over 50 percent of the Department of Vehicle and Equipment Services’ time and budget,” the Internal Audit report states.
As an example, the Department of Environmental Health maintained at the time of the audit that 18 of its 27 garbage trucks were more than 10 years old. In addition, 25 of the 27 trucks maintained at the time required “life cycle refurbishment.” Those works were expected to cost a total of $1.5 million, or $60,000 per vehicle.
According to the audit, a number of Cayman Islands government agencies choose simply not to use the government department created to maintain and purchase new vehicles because the Department of Vehicle and Equipment Services does not measure up, in the estimation of some agencies.
“[This is] evident in the fact that some government agencies do not use the services offered by the Department of Vehicle and Equipment Services … mainly due to concerns of inadequate assurance that the output [work] will not meet their relevant timeliness or quality standards,” the internal audit report states.