EDITORIAL: The landfill saga continues – seemingly without end

Four years ago, the Compass published a history of the George Town landfill, from its accidental beginnings through successive decades of government inaction, punctuated by studies, recommendations and assurances that a more suitable waste management system was in the works (“George Town landfill: 25 years of broken promises,” Aug. 8, 2014).

The story remains, unfortunately for the country, relevant reading. We will not spend too much time recycling the contents of the 2014 article, but here’s a single paragraph that could easily have been written this afternoon:

“By the end of the 1980s, Cayman’s legislators realized that a problem was developing with the George Town landfill, and over the past 25 years a steady stream of politicians has discussed the issue, formed committees and commissioned studies to investigate solutions, and made promises that haven’t been kept.”

The long wait continues, despite last year’s selection of a Dart group-led consortium to build and operate what officials like to call an “Integrated Solid Waste Management System” (or “ISWMS”) but what we’ll refer to as a “new landfill.”

As we reported on Wednesday, 13 months after announcing Dart as the “preferred bidder” (or “PB”) for the 25-year contract, government has not successfully negotiated the terms of the contract, which of course is the next substantive step toward the ultimate goal of closing and remediating the current landfill site, and opening a modern waste management facility.

The newest series of firm-ish deadlines forecasts the beginning of construction at the end of 2019, the initial opening of the new landfill at the end of 2020, and commencement of the much-touted waste-to-energy plant at the end of 2021.… Provided of course that a contract acceptable to all parties is drafted by the end of March 2019, and an environmental impact assessment (yes, for a dump) is finished by the end of June 2019.

Perhaps in response to our article, or at least shortly after it was published, the Ministry of Health issued a 400-plus-word statement laden with jargon, acronyms and non-concrete chronological touchstones – but oddly without evidence to support the government’s first-sentence assertion that “Negotiations between CIG and the Preferred Bidder (PB) have been going well.”

(For the record, we were listening and taking notes when Dart was announced as the contractor for the new landfill project in October 2017. At the time, negotiations were expected to take “several months” to complete; planning and environmental paperwork was supposed to take place during the interim; and construction was supposed to begin in the summer of 2018. Interestingly, the final deadline for the new facility to become operational – the year 2021 – has not changed, although all of the previous benchmarks have fallen to the wayside.)

Government officials may think phrases such as the following are compelling – “the ISWMS project is twenty-five (25) year long term contract with the PB to Design Build Finance Operate and Maintain (DBFOM) the ISWMS Facilities” – but they ought to understand by now that all the public really wants to know could be expressed in a short answer to an even shorter question:

“When?”