By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The New Providence landfill’s new operator yesterday said it is “well armed with funding and ready to go” as it takes over the site’s management for the first time today.
Henry Dean, head of the Waste Resources Development Group (WRDG), told Tribune Business that the winning bidder had already mobilised with “no less than 50 trucks” ready to haul fill to the Tonique Williams Highway site to ensure all garbage is fully covered.
Pledging that the 100 percent Bahamian-owned group will deliver “a first class experience for all of us”, Mr Dean said its first priority upon formally taking charge today will be “to kill or bring as as close to zero as possible” the risk of major fires breaking out at the site.
WRDG has partnered with Providence Advisors, the Bahamian investment bank, to form New Providence Ecology Park Ltd, the entity that will oversee the landfill’s transformation. Mr Dean predicted that the group’s efforts to raise the initial $20m financing it requires will likely be “oversubscribed”, adding that money was “no issue”.
He said New Providence Ecology Park’s 20-strong workforce was familiarising itself with the landfill’s layout and management concerns yesterday, prior to taking over from the Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS), and promised that its work during the 10-year lease agreed with the Government will benefit many more Bahamians than just the consortium.
“We are ready. Things are going well. We’re having orientation for all the employees as we speak, and all the equipment is identified. We’re good to go,” Mr Dean told this newspaper.
“We have a management team that is foreign, six to eight of them, and then the rest are Bahamian. Immediately we’re going to begin the process of identifying Bahamians to understudy them so Bahamians are being exposed to the science.”
Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said New Providence Ecology Park’s management team has vast experience in managing landfills and waste across the globe, and in addressing the problems they create.
Its members are said to be especially well-versed in bringing order to chaos, and establishing rules and a regulated environment where none previously existed. “They’ve done a lot of work to get ready and are well-poised to take over tomorrow [today],” one source said.
“They’re used to going into uncertain situations and bringing order and everything to it. They are people familiar with going into situations where there are not too many rules and regulations, and creating stuff from the ground up.”
Mr Dean, meanwhile, said New Providence Ecology Park had the necessary financing to underpin its plans. “We are well armed with funds,” he told Tribune Business. “We are ready for take over tomorrow. There is no issue with funding.
“I think we’ll be oversubscribed. This operation, this vehicle, provides interest returns that are far more than anyone is getting in the bank. This is a good opportunity for Bahamians with money to invest. We want, in the first instance, to offer it to Bahamian institutional investors who manage funds. There’s liquidity in the country, and liquidity available for us. We’re well on our way.”
Tribune Business reported last month how Mr Kerr, on New Providence Ecology Park’s behalf, was moving rapidly to “cement” previous investor financing commitments now that it had sealed the landfill deal with the Government.
Mr Dean yesterday said the consortium planned to hit the ground running, explaining: “We have begun to stockpile fill so we can make sure the garbage is covered in a timely manner, and reduce the risk of fire,” he told this newspaper. “We want to kill that or bring that risk as close to zero as possible. That will be the first thrust.
“Right now we are hauling fill to cover the landfill, and I’m sure we have no less than 50 trucks being mobilised. Before we even takeover we’re creating income for people. While we are operators and investors, and the force behind it, there is much we will do that others will benefit from.”
The New Providence landfill has represented a growing health and environmental hazard for years, with the frequent eruption of fires - and the associated fumes - a particular nuisance and disruption for residents and businesses in nearby communities such as Jubilee Gardens.
The situation worsened to such an extent that it was seen as threat to the tourism industry, especially hotels in Cable Beach and western New Providence, and high-end communities such as Albany and Lyford Cay.
The Government committed to remediating the landfill in its Heads of Agreement with Baha Mar’s new owner, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), an obligation that pushed it towards outsourcing the site’s management and a private sector solution.
Outlining New Providence Ecology Park’s other priorities, Mr Dean said it is focused on ensuring “clear road paths” through the landfill so vehicles can better access the areas they are trying to get to.
He added that the consortium planned to secure, and fence in, the entire landfill site “by the end of next month” as a means to prevent unauthorised access by the likes of scavengers - which has been blamed for starting fires in the past.
The Tonique Williams Highway entrance’s drop-off point for small amounts of garbage will be maintained, and Mr Dean said instructions for the disposal of garbage and other behaviours will be posed throughout the site.
“We’re making a scheduled meeting with the haulers for next week to advise them of the new procedures and changes that will be from tomorrow or, at the latest, Monday, and let people appreciate that if we are able to obtain our objectives we need the support of users and people coming in,” Mr Dean said. “We want them to support the challenges the landfill has; any landfill has; and their support is critical. I cannot over-emphasise that.”
Mr Dean said New Providence Ecology Park’s initial focus will be on remediation, management and operations, adding that it will likely turn its attention to materials recycling, the separation of waste streams and other income-generating ventures towards the end of its first year in charge.
“We’ll begin to introduce revenue streams, how to convert this waste into wealth, income,” he pledged. “I think it [the landfill] has huge potential. Let’s look at the shrubbery, the trees that come in every day. If we were to totally isolate that and mulch it, we could approach the Government and say: ‘We have enough mulch for the country. Could you not increase the tariff, protect this?’
“I think the Government would do that as they would want us to succeed.” The New Providence landfill’s outsourcing is designed to extend the site’s longevity as well as transform waste management practices in The Bahamas, with Mr Dean suggesting this could extend to garbage collection depots being created for certain waste types in different parts of the island.
“It’s going to be a first-class experience for all of us,” he told Tribune Business. “I am excited that we have this opportunity to demonstrate that we, as a people, can do such things with a little help from outside.
“That’s where my head is. Making this good, making this successful, making it a model where if we’re successful others can follow. Giving the Government kudos for its decision, we’re saying open it up and give others the some opportunity.”