By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government will “not be relinquishing control” of the Tonique Williams-Darling Highway landfill, a Cabinet Minister has confirmed, although private sector involvement in waste-to-energy is going to be allowed.
Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment, told Tribune Business that the Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) would retain control of the landfill rather than outsource its management/operations to the private sector.
His comments will likely disappoint the numerous Bahamian and international groups who, over the past five-six years, have submitted proposals to take over the landfill and tackle its capacity/fire problems, boost operational efficiency and recycling, and ultimately develop a waste-to-energy plant at the site.
Still, the private sector can take some comfort from Mr Dorsett’s comments that he was “certain” it would have a role to play in the development of waste-to-energy capabilities.
He also indicated that private firms might still have a role to play at New Providence’s landfill - only the Government would remain in control.
“Waste-to-energy will be private sector driven, I’m certain about that,” Mr Dorsett said in response to Tribune Business questions. “There will be a certain element of private sector involvement, but the Department of Environmental Health Services will not be relinquishing control of the landfill.”
Mr Dorsett did not go into further details, although he disclosed that “a matter” relating to the New Providence landfill was before Cabinet for a decision. He declined to specify what that “matter” involved.
Tribune Business had been told by numerous sources that the Government was in talks with an unnamed foreign company to take over at least part of the landfill’s operations.
The company’s name was not provided, and details on the supposed talks were limited at best. Several sources suggested the proposal involved the Government, through the DEHS, retaining the landfill’s tipping fees, while the private company made its money through recycling and, potentially, waste-to-energy.
This, though, was denied Mr Dorsett. “The Government is not in discussions,” he told Tribune Business. “There’s a lot of misinformation being put into the public domain, but I think it will be cleared up in the next few weeks.
“There’s been some progress, and there’s a matter to be determined by Cabinet in the next few weeks.”
Pledging “to let people know the direction we’re going in” and to “get the ball rolling”, the Minister added: “The bottom line for us is to mitigate any future fires in the short-term, and begin readying ourselves for the ultimate objective.
‘”We are going to be looking at remediation, a proper system to deal with materials finding their way into the landfill and, ultimately, waste-to-energy. The ultimate objective is that we intend to transform it into a Green Park, where there is a solar field, waste-to-energy, and that requires the removal of the landfill.”
Mr Dorsett’s comments came after a fully Bahamian-owned consortium, which has spent $700,000 to-date on submitting proposals and business plans to take over New Providence’s landfill, gave the Government a public ‘prod’ to clarify its intentions.
The Waste Resources Development Group, which comprises BISX-listed Bahamas Waste, Wastenot, Impac and United Sanitation, took out a full-page newspaper advertisement questioning why the Government appeared to be wasting “a golden opportunity” that would cost taxpayers nothing.
Ginny McKinney, head of Wastenot and spokesperson for the group, told Tribune Business the Government had left it “in the dark” over its intentions for the landfill.
Noting that the Waste Resources Development Group and other bidders had suffered five to six years of “ups and downs”, ever since the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) first issued its renewable energy tender, Ms McKinney said their only interest lay in “moving the landfill forward”.
“We’ve not been notified formally on anything, which is why we’re already in the dark,” she told Tribune Business. “We’ve said to the Minister we’d really like to know what is happening. It’s really quite amazing that we would not know at this point.
“It’s been five years since BEC launched its tenders, and since then it’s just been a series of ups and downs and huge amounts of money put into developing these proposals.
“It does seem strange to us that we have received no heads up, no consultation. Let us know what this whole thing is with not consulting. It leads us to believe there is something else we should know about going on. At least draw us into the mix.”
The Waste Resources Development Group had submitted proposals to take over the landfill’s management with, and without, a waste-to-energy component.
Emphasising that the group was Bahamian-owned, and would thus keep revenues and jobs in this nation, the group’s proposal ‘with’ a waste-to-energy component estimates such a plant could save BEC $27 million in annual fuel costs.
The Waste Resources Development Group has also pledged, if it took over operations and ownership at the landfill, to stage an initial public offering (IPO) of shares to the public.
This would be based on the Arawak Port Development Company (APD) model, with the Government and the Waste Resources Development Group holding a 40 per cent equity stake each, and Bahamian public investors the remaining 20 per cent.
“We deal with the landfill every day; it’s very real to us,” Ms McKinney told Tribune Business. “For us who are functioning daily on that landfill, we want to understand what is going on.
“We’re all interested in trying to move on from what we have now, with proper separation of materials. We want to be involved in it as Bahamian companies with Bahamian shareholders, and that’s what we’re not seeing.”
The Waste Resources Development Group’s proposals focus on preventing further fires and health hazards at the landfill; repairs to existing waste cells to prevent their collapse; and the building of new cells at the landfill.
Its plans call for waste to be property separated; green waste to be composted and other recyclable materials extracted; and a waste-to-energy plant built as the final step.
Prior to that, the Waste Resources Development Group is also promising to control landfill costs and security; fix the scales and upgrade operations; and create fair and dependable tipping procedures.
Many observers consider the landfill a fire hazard just waiting to happen, based on its recent history, and have questioned the DEHS’s ability to continue reliably operating the site especially given the Government’s fiscal constraints.
The Tonique Williams-Darling site has been seen as ‘low hanging fruit’ for privatisation/outsourcing, yet the issue has dragged across two administrations with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.
The previous Ingraham administration was thought to be concerned about a private sector landfill operator levying fees that would have to be passed on to the Bahamian public, even though these would have amounted to a few dollars per month.
Ms McKinney suggested a private sector operator would likely fare better than the DEHS, as its contracts and profit targets would “keep our feet to the fire”.
“What we were proposing was to make the energy pay for the disposal,” she explained, implying that waste-to-energy revenues received from selling power to BEC would cover recycling and other costs.
If that happened, the landfill may not have to be subsidised by fees charged to the public “Waste-to-energy allows us to reduce waste going into the landfill and ameliorate all the subterranean methane gas,” Ms McKinney added.
“The most important thing I’m worried about is the remediation that needs to take place.”