It would be hard to imagine a more beautiful evening in Bodden Town. A full moon illuminated a calm Caribbean Sea, tropical palms undulated in the gentle breezes, and the nearly cloudless sky was punctuated with thousands of twinkling stars. (Think of Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh’s most famous painting “Starry Night.”)
Yes, four years ago, it was a perfect night for a political rally – and a political protest.
The UDP had come to town to convince Bodden Towners to endorse their vision for the country and to vote for their slate of candidates. The opposition, small in number (about 25 or so) lined the periphery of the UDP rally armed with placards, most bearing a singular slogan: “No Dump in Bodden Town.”
A movement was born that evening that would generate one of the most powerful issues of the May 2013 elections – and its consequences are still reverberating today.
Bolstered by their alliance with the “No Dump” activists, Alden McLaughlin and his Progressives rode a wave of popular discontent with McKeeva Bush’s administration and swept into power, making a clean conquest of all four seats in Bodden Town.
After uniting with Bodden Town’s newly elected members, Mr. McLaughlin was able to form a new government, now known as the Progressives, and allocate ministerial assignments. Osbourne Bodden, from Bodden Town, was given responsibility to oversee landfill issues. One of his first official pronouncements was to reject a cash-free proposal (valued at $60 million) by the Dart organization to take care of the dump, once and for all.
For several months into the Progressives’ new administration, the matter of the dump appeared dormant. But then, in December 2013, the landfill asserted itself by bursting into flames, spewing noxious columns of poisonous smoke across Grand Cayman.
In February 2014, an even larger fire broke out at the landfill, taking two days for firefighters to extinguish the inferno.
Those blazes ignited public opinion against the Progressives’ neglect of the landfill, including a sustained editorial campaign by this newspaper.
On the 2013 campaign trail, the Progressives had assured voters they possessed a “non-Dart, non-Bodden Town” solution to address decades of governmental inaction on the George Town landfill. As we now know, there was no solution; there was no plan.
That is not to say the government has not made improvements at the landfill. It has. New equipment, more resources and better management practices have improved the day-to-day conditions at the dump. Though those efforts are welcome, they are ultimately superficial.
During their four-year term, the Progressives have been pursuing a comprehensive 25-year solid waste management plan for all three islands. Their current proposal, involving recycling, waste diversion and “waste-to-energy” technology, carries a price tag of $100 million for initial capital investment. Operating costs are estimated at $538 million over 25 years. It remains unclear, however, how both the capital costs and the operating costs will be financed.
What is highly questionable to us is the assumption that 95 percent of Cayman’s waste will be diverted (through recycling, etc.) from being landfilled. (For comparison, the highest diversion rate of any major city in North America, for San Francisco, is 80 percent.)
Even if the Progressives’ plan comes to pass, it still keeps the landfill “in situ,” meaning in the heart of Grand Cayman’s prime Seven Mile Beach corridor, neighbor to Dart’s dynamic and growing Camana Bay, and next to the country’s newest, busiest, and, we trust, most beautiful highway. (Somebody needs to whisper in somebody’s ear that a dump is not a roadside attraction.)
And so, four years after that memorable starry night in Bodden Town, the landfill issue that begat an unlikely political marriage of convenience between Bodden Town candidates and George Town Progressives once again will go before the voting public.