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HomeNewsArchivesCOLE: DECLARE GARBAGE STATE OF EMERGENCY

COLE: DECLARE GARBAGE STATE OF EMERGENCY

The territory's solid waste and sewage problems are getting so severe Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole says Gov. Charles Turnbull should declare a state of emergency and solicit federal assistance.
From sewage spills in St. Croix, to garbage pileups at the Susanaberg transfer station in St. John, to overflowing dumpsters in St. Thomas — and unpaid vendors everywhere — Cole says the government has lost control of waste management and needs help.
"The Department of Public Works and the executive branch should declare a state of emergency in solid waste so we can deal with the problem right away," Cole said Friday. "Then the government could sit down with the feds and say we need some help with this problem.
"Perhaps there is federal assistance available, especially for the sewage treatment plants and the landfills," he said.
A major reason trash is piling up on all three islands are the hundreds of thousands of dollars the government owes vendors who haul, treat and pick up garbage. Periodically, some of these businesses are forced to slow down the operations because of the money they are owed.
Jose Penn, chief financial officer of Penn's Trucking, which hauls trash on St. John, said his company is owed about $188,000, and has sometimes had to decrease operations.
"When you can't get paid, you have to slow down every so often. The government always says it's going to do something, but nothing ever happens, and the garbage builds" Penn said. "But I think now they know it's serious."
"And I think people need to know it's not just an isolated problem. It's going to affect our health if it's not dealt with," he said.
Overflowing garbage could also affect the territory economically, Penn said.
"It's not good for tourism and it's not good for locals," he said. "When the islands are dirty, it's not just unsightly, it's unhealthy."
The government has told him he should get a check for what he is owed sometime next week, Penn said.
The same problems have plagued the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas. Several times in the past two years, employees of S&S Services, which treats the landfill's garbage, have walked off the job due to money the company is owed by the government. During these job actions, residents of Bovoni have frequently complained about the stench and swarms of flies generated by untreated trash.
St. Thomas Administrator Louis Hill said Friday the Turnbull administration recognizes the problem, but is not ready to call it an emergency.
"There are problems with waste disposal and we have problems with the landfills, but there are funds negotiated from the bond issues that will be used for a comprehensive solid waste plan," Hill said. "And we're starting that now."
Department of Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson did not return phone messages left Friday.
On a smaller scale, the recent decision to relocate a pair of dumpsters in Smith Bay has created its own small crisis, Cole said.
"They made the decision to move the dumpsters 200-300 yards up the road and didn't put up any signs saying no more dumping, so individuals came by to dump their trash and they dumped it on the ground because there wasn't any dumpster," he said.
Hill said he has scheduled a meeting with residents to attempt to resolve the dumpster dispute.
"Nobody wants the garbage cans in front of their doors, but we must have them somewhere," he said. "We're asking for the residents' cooperation and not to dump garbage where there isn't a dumpster. The dumpster is only another half mile up the road."
Smith Bay, however, is not the only neighborhood with a dumpster problem. Cole said he toured several other St. Thomas dumpster sites Thursday and found garbage spilling over into the trees and trash scattered into the bush.
"It was really untidy and unsightly," Cole said. "What is happening is the varmints — the rats, the roaches, birds, dogs and goats — are spreading the stuff all over. It's becoming a health hazard."
According to Hill, the overflowing dumpsters were a result of broken-down garbage trucks.
"A couple of the contractors that handle the dumpsters had vehicles that were broken-down, that is the reason the garbage was overflowing this weekend," he said. "They assured us it had nothing to do with a work slow down to put pressure on the government."
The contractors should now resume clearing garbage and have also agreed to clean the areas around the dumpsters, he said.
"There are certain rules about not disposing of refrigerators and stoves and construction materials in the garbage bins, yet we have them all the time," Hill said. He urged resident to call the police or the Department of Public Works if they see persons leaving these items in the dumpsters.
The community can clean the islands by not littering, he said.
"I'm asking the residents of the Virgin Islands to play a role in the process," Hill said. "The garbage on the roadsides that people call and complain about is put there by people. The residents have keep the islands clean, too. "

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