After years of negotiations, government and a Dart-led consortium signed on the dotted line today to move the multi-million dollar Integrated Solid Waste Management System project at the George Town landfill forward.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, speaking at press briefing this afternoon along with consortium and government officials, said the contract on the future of the landfill represents the final step towards “a modern, 21st century waste-management system”.

The project, which will be called ReGen, will take three-and-a-half years to complete, he said, and over the coming months remediation of the main mound will continue.

Dart and Cayman Islands government representatives sign a finalised deal on Friday, 26 March, on a new waste management system, called ReGen, which will be based on the site of the George Town landfill. – Photo: Norma Connolly

The Integrated Solid Waste Management System includes remediating the site and creating a waste-to-energy facility that aims to reduce the amount of garbage by 95%. It will also include the eventual closure of the landfills on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, as solid waste from the Sister Islands will be shipped to the Grand Cayman site.

In 2017, the Dart-led construction was announced as the preferred bidder on the project, and while elements of the deal went ahead, such as beginning remediation work on the landfill mound, the final deal was not signed until today.

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The premier said an environmental impact assessment for the project will commence with the publication of the terms of reference which will soon be available for public consultation.

“Between 2022 and 2024, a new facility will be constructed and, until the energy recovery facility is complete, waste will continue to be landfilled and remediation of the north mound will be completed,” he said.

Once completed, by 2024, the premier said, Cayman can expect to have a modern facility handling its waste which “will serve us for at least the next 25 years”.

The landfill, he said, will also include privacy screens to improve its appearance.

McLaughlin said the project was in line with the outline business case completed back in 2016.

An artist’s rendering of how the dump site may look once remediation and capping is complete. – Supplied by Dart

The announcement comes hours after a fire raged at the George Town landfill’s scrap metal site. The premier described it as “unfortunate events” which demonstrated there is “no do-nothing option” when it comes to the landfill, which he and Dart representatives said would reach capacity in the next five years if the status quo remained.

“I want to assure the public that this public-private partnership intends to deliver on a shared goal of providing a modern, sustainable option to waste handling in these beloved islands,” he said.

Peter Ranger, chief project manager at the government’s Major Projects Office, said the construction costs of the project would be $205 million, which will be met by Dart.

The cost of remediating the site would be paid for by the withdrawal of $22.7 million from the government’s Environmental Protection Fund. After that, there will be no additional cost to government until the facility is up and running, he said.

Once operational, government will pay the Dart consortium an average of $163 per ton for processing waste at the site.

McLaughlin, following Friday’s briefing, told reporters that only local waste would be processed at the site, and no waste would be imported from overseas to be converted into energy.

Remediation of the site, and the removal of ‘legacy’ waste, such as the piles of old cars and scrap metal, is expected to lessen the chance of fires at the landfill. In March last year, just before work on covering with site with an initial layer of aggregate was about to begin – and before the COVID crisis hit – a massive landfill fire burned for several days before being brought under control. Since then, much of the main mound has been covered, but on Thursday this week a fire broke out in the scrap metal area, which has not been remediated.

Cayman Islands Fire Service and Department of Environmental Health crews spent hours battling the fire from Thursday into Friday morning, to bring it under control. Excavating and damping down operations were continuing throughout Friday to minimise the risk of re-ignition.

The premier, addressing why the final deal had taken so long to get signed, said it had involved complex negotiations. Ranger expanded on this, saying the contract, which contains several hundreds of pages, had started out with a UK version that had to be honed to fit Cayman, as “a lot of the standard clauses just were not really relevant for us”.

McLaughlin denied that the deal had been delayed so that it could be signed just weeks before the 14 April general elections, saying people had been calling for successive governments to “fix the dump” for decades. “Well, we’re fixing the dump,” he said.

“We haven’t cut any corners, we haven’t made any concessions that otherwise would not have been made,” he said. “I think that the country overall, whether they support the government or not, should be happy we have finally reached a point where there is comprehensive, sustainable way of managing Cayman’s solid waste issue for at least another quarter of a century.”

Cameron Graham, Dart president of development delivery and infrastructure, said the signing represents a defining moment for Cayman “moving past decades of talk to action” to sustainable waste management.

He said it also commences a rigorous project timeline, including environmental impact assessment, design and procurement.

He said 300 jobs will be created through the project, with up to 60 jobs involving long-term maintenance and management of the facility once it is up and running.

Graham added the contract also includes an educational element to help youth and the community to understand how to manage waste more sustainably.

Ownership of the facilities, Ranger added, will be transferred to government at the end of the 25-year contract.

See the ReGen project presentation here.

Compass journalists Reshma Ragoonath and Norma Connolly contributed to this article.

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