Top story of 2014: George Town dump: several fires, slow progress

Editor’s note: Over the next few days, we will be revisting the Top Ten stories of 2014 in the Cayman Islands. These are the stories that, in the view of Cayman Compass editors, not only “made the headlines” but also had a significant or lasting impact on these islands.  

The George Town dump was the topic of much talk during 2014, but little happened on site with the exception of four fires. However, the Cayman Islands government did set in motion a plan that it says will address the country’s solid waste issues for a half-century. 

Early in the year, the focus was on what to do about the nearly 2 million discarded tires at the landfill, an issue that literally became a burning one in late December 2013, when a small part of the tire pile caught on fire, spewing huge plumes of black smoke into the sky over southern Seven Mile Beach during the busy tourist season. 

In January, Department of Environmental Health Director Roydell Carter said another request for proposal would be issued in an effort to find a company interested in buying the tires for scrap value. Three similar invitations to tender made in 2011 and 2012 did not produce a successful bidder. When the early 2014 request for proposal failed to produce a bid, the government tried again in May, this time saying it would accept “nominal” bids, essentially indicating that the tires could be taken away without paying anything.  

In August, the government announced that two companies had responded to the RFP and that the assessment committee had met and made a recommendation to the Central Tenders Committee. However, as 2014 neared its end, no announcement had been made about whether a successful bidder had been chosen, and no tires had been removed from the pile during the year. 

Fires  

Although the tire pile at the dump did not catch fire in 2014, other parts of the dump did have fires four different times.  

The first and worst fire started on Feb. 12. That evening, the wind died down and instead of heading skyward, the putrid, gray smoke inundated parts of George Town and Seven Mile Beach. The smoke caused the closure of two schools and the offices of Caribbean Utilities Company. The fire burned for three days. 

During the summer, firefighters were called to fight blazes at different areas of the dump three times in four weeks, starting on July 19, then again on Aug. 3 and yet again on Aug. 17. These fires all started deep below the surface, and firefighters had to work around the clock on shifts to put them out. 

Changing plans  

Although several of the Progressives-led government campaigned on a “no dump in Bodden Town” platform, the Cabinet minister with responsibility for the landfill, Osbourne Bodden, said the “urgency of the matter” of dealing with the ever-increasing mound of trash known locally as “Mount Trashmore” had not escaped the government. He confirmed the government’s intention of dealing with the matter on site, meaning the landfill would remain in George Town. 

Mr. Bodden announced that a steering committee had been formed to conduct research and travel to other landfill sites to observe best practices and standards. As part of the latter initiative, Mr. Bodden, Premier Alden McLaughlin and two civil servants traveled to Tampa to tour waste-to-energy facilities, landfills and a recycling processing center. 

In February, Mr. Bodden detailed to the Legislative Assembly a staged process for the development of a George Town landfill solution. Stage one, he said, was to produce a Strategic Outline Case, which was published and made public in late April.  

The Strategic Outline Case forms the basis for a request for proposal for consultants to deliver a national waste management strategy “that will help to better identify the project options for assessment,” which will in turn give way to consultants identifying a preferred project option, he said.  

In a letter to the editor of the Cayman Compass in July, Mr. Bodden said construction on a waste management plant should start in 2015, be finalized in 2016 and become operational in 2017. He said whatever solid waste management plant was built, it would “likely cost at least” $100 million. 

In November, the England-based consultancy firm AMEC was selected from a bidding process to help develop a 50-year integrated solid waste management system. That system will include elements dealing with trash collection, landfill operations, recycling and waste-to-energy proposals. At the same time, Minister Bodden acknowledged that it was doubtful that the initial timeline his government had set could be met. Two weeks after that statement, he confirmed that works on the new plant were not likely to start until 2016 and that the project wouldn’t be completed before the next elections, which would probably be held in May 2017. 

One month later, as a result of an incident involving yelling and swearing with his chief officer, Jennifer Ahearn, Mr. Bodden was removed as minister with responsibility for the landfill, with Premier Alden McLaughlin assuming those responsibilities.  

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The George Town dump ablaze in February 2014, one of four major landfill fires during the year. – Photo: Chris Court

1 COMMENT

  1. About the dump, I continue to say the Island is too small to have a dump of continuous fire that large. It is downright scary.
    No expert on this, but is there a reason why each district cannot have and maintain their own dump?

  2. You forgot to mention in this time line that during the election Mr Bodden said that they already had a plan for remediating the GT Dump on site. I guess the plan was to take multiple fact finding trips to the US, organize a steering committee that will draw up an outline of how they will hire a consultant to identify the best option for the plan that they already have. They can then hire an additional consultancy firm to develop the plan that we were told already exists.

    There are plenty of ways to look busy while doing nothing and this surely seems like one of the instances.

    And you wonder why it won’t be done by the next election. In my opinion it won’t get done unless someone else does it for us.

    Stop wasting money, let Dart cleanup that place and build us a new waste management facility and give us a fresh start. Then find a private sector company to handle future waste management, lord knows you guys can’t.

  3. Michael, whether we want to agree or disagree, you just said it all. I listened to the Dump and other promises made, and watched the people of Bodden Town stood in line with their cups for lemonade as I remember the words of the late Hon. Haig Bodden. He said if you dressed up a broomstick in Bodden Town the people would vote for it. So where are the dressed broom sticks now.
    I am quite sure the government knew then and know now that they would not, and could not touch the dump with a ten foot pole. They just never had a plan from the beginning, and just for political votes the people were fooled into thinking that Dart was not the best person to fix the situation. So who is going to fix it now? Like Michael said, we need to let Dart complete what he promised and allow a private sector Company to handle future waste management, because if not, it is going to get worse before it gets any better.

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