The year started almost apocalyptically for residents in the vicinity of the George Town landfill as multiple fires ravaged the dump in 2020, prompting national outcry.
However, by year’s end, government announced that pre-construction work was to begin on its long-awaited waste-management plan.
An announcement on the final agreement with the selected project bidder, a Dart-led consortium including its construction company, DECCO, is expected in January. In this year-in-review feature, we take a look back at developments at the dump.
Fires wreak havoc
Through January and February, firefighters were called out several times to deal with blazes at the dump.
On 24 Jan., what was initially believed to be a small fire at the landfill soon grew and burned for more than 24 hours, emitting a steady stream of black smoke that was seen throughout George Town.
The Cayman Islands Fire Service reported that the blaze had started in the vehicle-recycling plant, run by Island Recycling. The cause of the fire was unknown.
Fire officers stayed at the scene of the fire for three days, monitoring it as a precaution to ensure that the deep-seated blaze did not re-ignite. Five days later the blaze was controlled.
Mere weeks later another blaze would ignite at the site. That fire, however, was contained fairly quickly.
The same could not be said for the fire that followed in March.
On 7 and 8 March, Fire Service crews were called to the George Town landfill after an initial fire was reported, but they found no sign of smoke or fire at the site.
Nevertheless, according to a Government Information Services spokesperson, they saturated the area of concern and left believing the fire was completely extinguished. Hours later high winds re-ignited the fire, sending up large plumes of black smoke.
The blaze prompted the closure of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway between Camana Bay and the Butterfield roundabout. The fire forced the evacuations of communities in the vicinity of the landfill. Cayman International School, John Gray High School, George Town Primary School and the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre all closed their doors, and the Red Cross shelter was opened.
The inferno, the largest in recent history, raged on top of the main mound and the tyre area for several days before being extinguished 12 days later.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who spent several hours at the site of the blaze when it raged on the night of 8 March, apologised to the country for the fire, which he said looked like “hell”.
While he vowed to deal with the dump, McLaughlin said there was not a simple fix, and not one particular solution.
Operations at the dump returned to normal after that March fire, but the firefighters were forced to return to the site in May to battle another ‘deep-seated’ blaze. Unlike the fire in March, this one at the landfill did not force the evacuation of nearby residents or close main thoroughfares. However, it did take about two days to extinguish.
Also in May, work began on the initial stages of capping the landfill, a key part of Cayman’s planned integrated solid waste management system. Work involved determining how much fill material would be required and its associated costs.
An initial ‘test pad’ was identified on top of the landfill’s main mound, which stands more than 90 feet above sea level.
Several loads of fill were hauled to the site by dump trucks, and then applied by a bulldozer.
In October, a joint statement from government and the Dart group announced that work to cap and cover the landfill and an environmental impact assessment on the wider waste-management project will begin in early 2021.
The project is said to include a waste-to-energy facility, material recovery facility, a green waste-composting facility, a construction and demolition waste facility, and a household waste recycling centre, as well as a bottom ash processing facility, and an end-of-life vehicle and scrap-metal processing facility.
Landfill project moves ahead
In October, government also announced that pre-construction work was set to begin on the waste-management plan.
However, a final agreement with the selected project bidder, a Dart-led consortium, has yet to be completed. The consortium was selected three years ago to tackle government’s waste-management problem, but negotiations on the design, operation and financing of the project are ongoing.
It is expected that by 2024 the George Town landfill will reach full capacity and government said it hopes before then to complete the waste-to-energy facility, the final phase of its integrated waste management plan.
An announcement on the finalised agreement had been expected by the end of the year, but the Cayman Compass understands that date has been moved to January.