The problem is not the fires — it’s the fuel

Five times in the past eight months, the George Town landfill has erupted into flames, propelling noxious plumes of poisonous smoke into the nostrils and lungs of unfortunate Cayman Islands residents and visitors.

The periodic conflagrations send Cayman fire crews scrambling across the face of Mount Trashmore to snuff out burning material and douse deep-seated hot spots with water. While our firefighters have managed, so far, to win each individual battle, they cannot be expected to maintain control forever over more than 1 million tons of combustible refuse, stacked more than 80 feet in the air.
Sooner or later, the law of entropy will prevail.

Although the dump fires are becoming more routine, we cannot allow them to become a matter of routine. Our perspective on the dump fires should be similar to how Californians regard earthquakes: The next one might well be “The Big One.”

The most recent blaze at the landfill is a good example. Firefighters received a 911 call Sunday morning, responded rapidly and were able to extinguish the flames within two hours. Well done — but as Acting Fire Chief Roy Grant attested, the margin between victory and catastrophe was far narrower than may have appeared.

“When we got here, it was a fairly good fire, but we surrounded it and cut it off,” he said. “It had the potential to be a major, major fire, but we had it surrounded quickly.”

The distinction — and it’s a positive one — between Cayman’s dump and California’s earthquakes is that Cayman’s disaster is self-inflicted. Made by man, it can be remedied by man as well.

As attention-grabbing as the fires are — public interest in the topic flares up whenever the landfill does — the problem with the dump is not that it catches fire. Certainly, the fires are singularly dangerous events, but they are merely symptoms of the underlying disease and unwelcome reminders of the latent hazards lurking within the toxic, unlined landfill. Even when this hellish monster is in quiet repose, it constitutes Cayman’s greatest menace to the health of our people, our environment and our tourism product.

Put another way, the problem isn’t the fire, it’s the fuel.

In the meantime, our government continues to saunter along its procedural path at a plodding pace. Late last week we received word that two companies had submitted proposals to remove the vast stockpiles of used tires from Cayman’s three landfills, in response to an advertisement that government put out in late May.

If the government has actually found two companies interested in taking away those tires, at no charge, why the delay? Sign on the dotted line, and let them get to work.

To Minister Osbourne Bodden, we repeat our entreaty to sign the following pledge: “If a new waste management facility is not in operation in Grand Cayman by 2017, I will withdraw my name from consideration for re-election.”

We’re merely asking him to put into writing what he has proclaimed in public. Minister Bodden and his fellow MLAs from Bodden Town made a similar commitment during the 2013 campaign, when they pledged to “vote against any proposal in the Legislative Assembly which involves establishing a waste management facility in Bodden Town.”

More importantly, we have heard nothing from any of the elected members from George Town — Marco Archer, Winston Connolly, Joey Hew, Alden McLaughlin, Roy McTaggart and Kurt Tibbetts — to whom we issued the same challenge, and in whose district, after all, the landfill resides.

Do they have faith in Minister Bodden’s timeline to fix the landfill, in situ, as they say?

If so, we invite them to risk their jobs on it.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. I am truly tired of waking up every morning and reading about this dump and its fires. Isn’t there something that can be done to stop this, or do we have to put up with it for ever. My worries are the constant burning and dousing with water is going to eventually destroy bedrock underneath in that area by causing it to become porous and crumble. No matter how deep and wide we may think Cayman is this will eventually cause some damage that cannot be repaired.

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  2. Folks enough is enough.

    Firefighters, police officers et.al. put their lives on the line for all of us every day. We can’t prevent accidents and acts of violence which will see those that protect us coming into harms way but that’s the way of it for the police.

    Firefighters are a different story as it relates in particular to the landfill. While fighting this menace, a build up of gas could blow any number of firefighters to kingdom come and there is something which can be done about it.

    So politicians, get off your butts and take action and don’t wait until there is a major disaster which leaves families without a father. Why wait because I’m at a loss to see why we are waiting.

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  3. Genuine question, with the proposals we’ve seen for the dump for capping it will this make the fires better or worse? So once it’s been decommissioned and capped will these fires still occur and be harder to put out, possibly igniting trapped methane in the process, or will capping it cut off the oxygen so they can’t start in the first place?

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  4. Joseph, I suggest you Google ‘Landfill Capping’ you will see the capping a landfill and properly maintaining the cap will reduce not only the threat of fires but also the issues with leaching into the North Sound. I would also suggest that you Google ‘Park on Capped Landfill’ or ‘ landfill to nature reserve ‘ You’ll see some of the amazing things that are done with capped dumps from Nature reserves to public parks and Golf courses.

    A part of the offer from Dart was to properly cap the GT Landfill, handle the on going maintenance of the site at his own cost and create a public park on the site with walking and bike trails. If any thinks this cannot be done safely I suggest you read more about it. And we all know that Dart would have done it nicely because it’s right next door to Camana Bay.

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  5. Oh and did I mention that the estimated cost of capping the dump was more than 30 Million Dollars, not including the cost of on going maintenance. But hey that offer was blown off, and now we are left with the CIG’s ability to come up with a solution (they were already supposed to have one)and their ability to come up with the more than 100 Million dollars it will cost to implement said solution or find someone who will put out the money and wait up to 20 years for any return on their investment. This investor will surely need to trust the CIG’s integrity with their deals.

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