Increasing public criticism of what government says will be a lengthy process in bringing a final solution to the George Town landfill problem will not dissuade his administration from its stated course, Premier Alden McLaughlin told the Cayman Economic Outlook conference Thursday morning.
Speaking before a record crowd at the annual forum, held at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, the premier said he fully acknowledges the urgency of resolving numerous issues with the 80-foot high trash pile now visible to all cruise ship passengers entering the George Town harbor and which has caught fire twice in the past two months. But he added that government “cannot reasonably be expected to resolve [the landfill problem] overnight.”
Mr. McLaughlin cited United Kingdom-proposed budgeting requirements placed into Cayman Islands law during the previous government’s administration that set out a specific process for public project bidding, including for any tenders government might pursue regarding the landfill.
“We do not have a choice,” the premier said. “The process that we are required to follow is identical to the one that is being done for the cruise ship berthing project. We must create a strategic outline case, which will provide an overview of the issue and identify and broadly assess the various actions for the project. This strategic outline case will then form the basis for an outline business case, which will provide further evaluation of the options and result in better definition of the project for procurement.
“There will also have to be an environmental impact assessment and stakeholder consultation, including public consultation. The processes that are in place under the amended Public Management and Finance Law are there in large part because of the disastrous consequences of the last tendering exercise conducted by government for a waste management solution. I’m sure my good friend, the president of the chamber [Johann Moxam], will recall this well as he was involved in that tendering exercise.”
Premier McLaughlin referred to the previous waste management tendering process which selected Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. to negotiate a waste management solution in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands, following a June 2011 decision by then-Premier McKeeva Bush’s government, went in a different direction with Dart Realty on an entirely separate project, which eventually led to plans to create a new waste management facility in the Midland Acres area of Bodden Town.
The Midland Acres proposal was rejected shortly after Mr. McLaughlin’s Progressives party gained a majority of seats in government following the May 2013 general election, a victory made possible by a four-seat sweep of the Legislative Assembly representatives in Bodden Town district.
Mr. McLaughlin’s comments about Chamber of Commerce President Moxam appeared to be a dig at Mr. Moxam and the Chamber Council’s comments earlier in the week regarding the government’s perceived inaction on the landfill issue.
Mr. Moxam clarified that a private sector group he was involved with had submitted a response to the 2010 request for proposals issued by the government on the initial landfill project. Mr. Moxam said it was “irresponsible” of the premier to disclose this in a public forum.
The Chamber indicated its disagreement to the approach proposed by Health Minister Osbourne Bodden in the Legislative Assembly last month, stating that reams of data regarding solid waste management already exist in Cayman or are easily available through “desktop technology.”
“The [Chamber] Council questions the merit and value of this approach, of travel, fact-finding missions and exhaustive research,” read a Feb. 4 letter from Chamber President Moxam to Minister Bodden. “In fact, we assess it to be unnecessarily protracted and unlikely to deliver value for money.
“The failure of successive governments to find a solution is not the result of lack of information, it is the lack of clarity about what the government is trying to achieve,” Mr. Moxam continued in the letter. “It is lack of courage to make a decision in the best interest of our islands.”
On Thursday, Mr. Moxam added: “I challenge the premier and Minister Bodden to demonstrate mature leadership, properly focus on national priorities and tell the country how they are going to fix this problem and refrain from releasing confidential information that is intended to cast negative and false aspersions as to why the Chamber decided to address this national issue.”
In late January, Minister Bodden told the Legislative Assembly that the 16-person committee he appointed would take some time to complete its review and that he hoped to have some form of remediation under way at the landfill site within two years. The committee consists of 13 civil servants or government employees, one elected member of the Legislative Assembly, and two former political candidates who sided with the ruling Progressives party in the May 2013 general elections.
On Thursday, at the Cayman Ecnomoic Outlook forum, Mr. McLaughlin urged his audience not to confuse government’s deliberate approach on a long-term landfill solution with a lack of action in the short term.
“We have assembled a very capable group with a tremendous depth of technical expertise that will be required to successfully steer the project through the process,” Mr. McLaughlin said of the landfill project steering committee. “But we are not simply going to sit back and do nothing while the committee takes the larger project through the procurement process.
“There is much work that needs to be done to enhance the capacity and management of operations at the landfill. We are reviewing the situation with regards to landfill equipment. We’re also undertaking efforts at recycling and reuse, such as the recent contract to remove the scrap metal which is still ongoing, and the tender to remove the tires.”
During the most recent landfill blaze, which broke out on Feb. 12 and lasted for more than three days, ive pieces of equipment that were supposed to be available to solid waste crews had broken down, including two excavators and two bulldozers which would have assisted firefighters in digging down to the core of the deep-seated blaze.
Minister Bodden has said replacing that equipment would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.