The safety of having Grand Cayman’s fuel storage depot in the midst of a heavily populated residential area has come under new scrutiny in the wake of Sunday’s fire in a diesel tank that prompted a mass evacuation of neighboring properties.
Firefighters battled for eight hours to put out the fire at the Jackson Point terminal on Sunday and Monday, and fire chief David Hails said their efforts had helped avoid a catastrophic incident.
Duke Munroe, director and chief inspector of OfReg’s Fuels Market division, said his department would be formally reviewing the incident, including safety measures at the plant.
He said the location of the terminal, on South Church Street in George Town, was under constant review, but acknowledged that it would be difficult to move.
“It is not common in many jurisdictions, but it is not unique,” he said, in response to questions from the Cayman Compass.
He said the situation was under review as part of the National Energy Policy.
“It is true that it will not be an easy decision,” he said, “and the number of critical factors which must be taken into account is the very reason this matter continues to remain actively under review to make sound recommendations to our policymakers in this regard.
“In the meantime, we continue to do our part to ensure the inherent risks associated with this essential service sector are minimized so that events like Sunday do not happen, or reoccur.
“This incident could elevate the discussion on location considerations and also any other interim measures to be adopted to keep the public safe while the island has its continuous supply of fuel.”
Two proposals for new bulk fuel storage facilities in the eastern districts have been put forward in the past decade.
Developer Joe Imparato was behind a 2010 proposal that would have included a hydrocarbon [fuel] storage facility as part of a larger seaport development in East End.
Mr. Imparato said Tuesday that the weekend fire had demonstrated the pressing need to move the fuel depot from such a heavily populated area.
“The dangers of having a fuel terminal in a residential neighborhood are real and will continue until the facility is relocated,” he said.
“Sunday’s fire at Jackson Point could have been a lot worse and could tragically repeat itself at any time.”
Mr. Imparato said there was no chance of reviving his plan, as the land associated with the project has been used for the Health City medical tourism facility. He said he was disappointed that the idea had not proceeded.
“The East End Seaport project addressed this very issue, as it was inclusive of a hydrocarbons terminal capable of off-loading deep draft vessels at a dock and not off of a mooring, as is done at Jackson Point,” he said. “This would have minimized the danger of spillage, moved the petroleum storage from a residential to an industrial area, and significantly lowered the cost of diesel and gasoline, and by extension electricity.”
In a separate proposal in 2014, government signed a joint development agreement with a Texas-based energy company that sought to eventually shutter the Jackson Point facility and build a new one in East End.
The three-page memorandum, signed in April 2014, states that Cayman and Navasota Clean Energy LLC intended to “establish a fully integrated development plan and structure such that they might attract one or more [fuel] terminal companies” that are interested in fuel supply and transshipment operations.
The project did not proceed, though the company is understood to be interested in renewing discussions with government.
Kurt Tibbetts, then planning minister, said in April 2015 that the project did not top the Progressives’ list of priorities.
He said, “The government has a million other things to do and, if it happens, it happens, and if it won’t, it won’t.”
Mr. Tibbetts had previously said in the Legislative Assembly that the current terminal was dangerous and would ultimately need to be moved.
“The government is aware of the growth restriction at the fuel terminal site which has a direct effect on the premium price we pay for fuel,” Mr. Tibbetts said in September 2014.
“It is inevitable that we expand our fuel capacity to meet the islands’ demand and, to do so, we must make plans to move the terminal from Jackson Point to a less developed location on these islands,” he added.
No one from Navasota Clean Energy was available for comment Tuesday, but the plan is understood to remain on the table.