Premier Alden McLaughlin has apologised for the landfill fires that Cayman’s firefighters and Department of Environmental Health crews have been battling for the last three days.
“I want to say how sorry I am, and the entire government is, about yet another one of these massive landfill fires,” McLaughlin said Monday afternoon at a media briefing at the landfill to update the country on the fires.
The premier, who spent five hours Sunday night and early Monday morning at the scene of the fire, summed up what he saw that night as “hell”.
He stressed that dealing with the landfill has been a priority for his administration.
“We have been working; we’re coming up on seven years now since we initiated this round of discussions and negotiations to get a permanent fix, at least for the next 25 to 30 years for Cayman’s solid-waste issues. It is not a simple fix, and there’s not one particular solution that will deal with it,” McLaughlin said.
The fire, which was still burning Tuesday afternoon, proved to be “challenging” for fire and DEH crews, according to Chief Fire Officer Paul Walker.
He said a “real team approach” was taken, especially in the first 24 hours, to stop the fire from spreading beyond the boundaries of the landfill site. Crews continued to work on the fire Tuesday and were expected to remain on site overnight.
McLaughlin: Resolution in the works
Dart is set to commence remediation work at the landfill next week as phase one of the integrated solid waste management project.
“Hopefully, we will get the fires under control, and that work can go ahead as planned,” the premier said.
He explained that addressing the landfill situation and finding a solution that works within government’s finances has been the subject of years of negotiation, some of which is still ongoing.
This first part of the project, he said, is expected to take about six months.
It includes capping the landfill, which he said will alleviate the problem of dump fires.
“Before we get to a complete solution, if there’s ever such a thing, we are still talking about three or four years. But the immediate concern, which has been a longstanding concern, of landfills catching fire should be resolved in six to eight months,” McLaughlin said.
Negotiations are still ongoing for the other elements of the project.
“We’ve struggled for how many years… to get agreement on all of these elements, but we were getting nothing done … So, what we did is we broke it down into its constituent parts, while we are working on the more complex things like [the] waste management facility and how they [Dart] get compensated for that,” he said.
Compared to “these difficult bits”, he said, “this is a much simpler exercise, which we managed to get agreement on. So, we’re proceeding with the remediation of the landfill itself.”
There are also aspects involving an environmental impact assessment for the waste-management plant, he said, that still have to go through that process.
“It is a very complex project involving a significant number of elements, and it is a very, very expensive exercise,” McLaughlin added.
He pointed out that the project as a whole “is going to take three or four years, the complete abandonment of landfilling as we know it. The vast majority of the waste will be burned through the waste-to-energy plant,” he said.
He said a big part of the challenge in dealing with the landfill was designing the request for proposal which McLaughlin said was highly technical and required expertise from the UK to develop. After that hurdle, came the negotiations to get the project off the ground.
McLaughlin, when pressed on the sticking points in the project, said it would not be “most helpful” to reveal it at this time.
“You’ve got to have a sustainable agreement that doesn’t break government, but which makes the investor feel satisfied that they are getting some returns on their money,” he added.
Cayman, he said, is three to four years away from the waste-to-management plant to be completed and commissioned.
With negotiations, the premier cautioned, there is always a chance of failure.
However, McLaughlin said, if the project is abandoned, Cayman would have to go back to a whole new request for proposals, a whole new bidding and procurement process.
“That’d be somebody else’s problem, not mine. Well, I shouldn’t say that wouldn’t be my problem. I would hope to be alive and be here, but it wouldn’t be my responsibility,” he added.
What the remediation entails
Covering the landfill with rock, followed up by other aggregate compaction.
Planting of vegetation.
Insertion of pipes to allow methane gas to be flared off.
The gases will ultimately form part of the waste-to-energy plant.