The landfill: Why the smoke and mirrors?

The Chamber of Commerce (a group representing more than 700 businesses and associations) this week took to task publicly the PPM government and, specifically, environmental health Minister Osbourne Bodden for foot-dragging on the dump.

The Chamber echoed cries for immediate government action in recent Compass editorials, on Rooster Radio, from the Leader of the Opposition and among people of all political persuasions and corners of the country.

It is not an exaggeration to state that the George Town landfill has become the most urgent issue facing Cayman.

And yet, government’s response has been anything but urgent, bordering on a yawny display of lethargy: Minister Bodden appears content to have set up a new committee (featuring political cronies), requisition more research, and, oh yes, take a few field trips to landfills in Florida.

Meanwhile, the George Town dump has now caught fire in spectacular fashion on two separate occasions during the height of this tourism season, spewing plumes of noxious smoke above the Grand Cayman skyline.

Astonishingly, both government and public health director Kiran Kumar are unable to reassure residents and tourists that the smoke they are inhaling is harmless.

The onus is clearly on health officials to prove these fumes are benign. Until that can be demonstrated, the presumption must be that they are toxic and doing harm to our citizenry. The lackadaisical response from government regarding these issues is simply not acceptable.

For example, during both recent landfill fires, no health warnings were issued to the public. Why not?

Ponder that thought in the context of a story on the front page of today’s Compass in which Todd Thalhamer, a senior waste management engineer at a recycling company in California and an adviser to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the following:

“When landfills catch fire, they do produce toxic smoke. The question is, without air sampling of the smoke, you can’t make the determination if it is a health concern.”
In Cayman, no testing of the smoke was conducted during either fire, according to Maysson Sallam, assistant director of the Department of Environmental Health.
Mr. Thalhamer warned, “If you can smell it, then you need to move, because you don’t know whether it is toxic or not.” He pointed out the danger is worse for the elderly and those with respiratory ailments such as asthma.

If politicians are adept at anything, it usually is discerning the will of the people who quadrennially vote them into — or out of — office. Addressing the George Town landfill, as we’ve suggested, is one of those few issues upon which voters from all constituencies agree.

We’ll leave it to Premier Alden McLaughlin to explain why he gave Minister Bodden authority over the dump. For now, we’ll make three observations that concern us.
Minister Bodden, and the rest of the PPM, campaigned on the platform of “No Dump in Bodden Town” — a parochial pledge still being adhered to.

Promptly after the May 2013 election, Minister Bodden quashed the Dart Group’s $60 million solution — while at the same time saying the dump would be a “major priority” for the government.

Seven months later, Minister Bodden’s approach to date consists of appointing a 16-member committee.

What Cayman needs is immediate action. What we’ve gotten is smoke from the dump, and smoke and mirrors from the government.

1 COMMENT

  1. NO DUMP IN BODDEN TOWN. I have always previously thought about the no’s and the yes’s of the voices of the people of Bodden Town in regards to the dump being brought up here; And today I had a brain storm in asking a few questions to all concerned.
    These questions, some may like and some may not like, but the fact is, as a concerned resident, and aka The Mayor of Bodden Town, I would love to know.
    (1) If there is so much concern about this dump by certain individuals, why don’t a decision be made to have an incinerator put in each district, and in so doing we take care of our own back yard garbage.
    The Eastern districts as I am quite aware, accumulates the least garbage. The population, hotels and restaurants are nothing compared to George Town and West Bay.
    I am now brainstorming why should Bodden Town have to take this bulk garbage when there can be other solutions.
    (2) I believe Mr. Dart right now is the only person with a great interest, and also the finance to make things happen in the dump situation; in able to maneuver properly and make every one happy. Brainstorming again – why couldn’t this money be spent to allow each district to take care of their own dump.
    (3) Why can’t a dump be continued on the same site strictly for George Town only.
    (4) What was the Planning department really thinking of when they allowed the International school to be built all they way out so near Mount Trashmore Garbage dump. Did they not foresee a problem of this magnitude taking place in the near future. This keeps me scratching my head.
    (5) I am really concerned about the fires happening so often now, which is causing a major concern to people to complain heavily and schools having to close for concerned health of the children.
    (6) Ozzie, this is my suggestion; and I am only brainstorming again, but you should dissolve the committee you set up and take things into your hands along with your cabinet and all elected BT members, and concerned residents and Grab the Bull by its horn. Get the best correct advice. Because as I see it now politically you are being backed into a very serious dark corner. So the best thing to do is step out in the light, shake your shoulders off and do what has to be done. Some may like it, and some may not, but it is a dirty job, and someone has to do it.

  2. Hi Twyla,

    This is my take on your questions, and just so you know. My property is in Northside not far from the proposed BT site. Probably closer than a lot of BT Folks

    Question 1: I think the idea of each district being responsible for their own garbage is a great idea. But think for a second if there’s limited to no money to deal with one Waste Management Facility is putting a facility in each district actually realistic at this point. As far as Bodden Town having to take the bulk garbage, I think people are taking this personally as if there was an island wide conspiracy to dump everyone’s garbage on Bodden Town when actually it is basically were the land for the facility was offered for free at no cost, nothing personal against BT, they made it personal.

    Question 2: Again I think the idea of each district having their own WMF is a good idea, But that isn’t what the offer was it would be up to the CIG to try and negotiate for this.

    Question 3: It probably could but that would only work out if there were dumps in every other district. And although you and I may think that a dump in each district is a good idea. I doubt the rest of the Bodden Townians would agree as they seem content with dumping all their garbage in George Town and have made it clear that they want No Dump in Bodden Town so I don’t think a solution that leaves BT even dealing with their own trash will be accepted.

    Question 4: Camana Bay and the International School where both built and conceived based on a promise by the CIG that the George Town Dump was to be remediated and transformed into a modern Waste Management Facility. This never happened and I’m sure planning didn’t plan for the dump to still be growing uncontrollably for the next 2 decades.

    Question 5 : We are all concerned about these things which is why people are pushing for something to be done, it’s not just about Bodden Town it’s about the whole country. And the reality is the Dart offer is our only realistic option at this point to get this issue with the GT Dump fixed as quickly as possible. Some people mostly Bodden Townians do not like this idea but what is comes down to is what best for the whole nation not just one district. If I thought for a minute that it was even a possibility that these issues could be fixed on site I would be all for it. But the fact remains that there is no money in government coffers to pay for it, no one is going to do it for free and we can’t borrow the money to do it.

    As far as the Dart deal itself, people have been demonizing this whole thing as if it’s a ploy by Dart to get the dump out of his back yard, but the truth is that even if he sets up a new facility in BT the GT Dump will still be there. The pile of trash will not be moved to BT as some people try to make us believe, it will have to be Capped at a tremendous cost. The specifics of the deal was for Dart to take control of the GT dump clean it up and put a cap over the pile of trash then landscape the site creating a park like environment, he would also be responsible for the ongoing maintenance for the site. The was all estimated to cost 30-35 Million dollars to do not including the cost on the ongoing maintenance. This would stop the smell, the risk of fire, the risk of trash being blown all over the island in a Nor’easter as well as the leaching into the North Sound. In addition to this he was to give us the land in Midland Acres for free and build the first stage of a new modern waste management facility which included administration, recycling and processing buildings and the first or three properly lined pits for garbage which would not leach or damage the local environment. This part was estimated to cost and additional 26 Million Dollars not mention all the people that would get work at both these sites. Again this is not the best solution possible but it is a hell of a lot better than doing nothing. I think it’s more likely that Dart is offering to do this not just to get it out of his backyard but because they do not believe that the CIG is capable fixing the dump themselves. He gets a better view from Camana Bay and motivation to continue with other projects which will inject money into our economy and create jobs and we get a new start with our Garbage issues at no cost, now that sounds like a Win Win to me

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