Oct. 17, 2001 – Although mostly praised for its intent, a bill to ban incineration as a solid-waste disposal method was tabled by the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection committee Wednesday.
Waste management experts, government officials and private organization representatives agreed that incineration can pose serious health hazards; however, they said the bill is too restrictive. The committee chair, Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, concluded, "This is the wrong time to limit technologies."
The concern expressed was that new waste-management technologies may incorporate incineration in one form or another. Banning the process totally could prevent the territory from taking advantage of new processes. In the words of one expert, "We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water."
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, said he had originally introduced it in the 23rd Legislature, where it died. "This bill was written prior to technologies that are in place now," he said, "It is not meant to shut out any new proposals." Donastorg said he hoped the hearing would bring out new ideas to enhance the present legislation.
It brought out no end of new ideas. Dean Plaskett, Planning and Natural Resources commissioner, was explicit in his objections. DPNR's Environmental Protection Division regulates the V.I. Air Pollution Control Act and enforces the federal Clean Air Act. Reading from testimony he gave at the bill's first hearing in 1999, Plaskett reiterated his views. "While no one who holds themselves out as an environmentalist will tout the virtues of incinerations," Plaskett said, "no honest evaluation of the state of incineration as part of a comprehensive solid and hazardous waste program will conclude that incineration should be banned altogether."
Further, Plaskett continued, "innovative waste-disposal techniques coming into fruition now are hybrids of incineration. Incineration should be part of a comprehensive solid and hazardous waste plan; it should not be relied upon as the be-all and end-all of waste management."
The bill does not cite any study findings to substantiate its basic premise regarding the health hazards of incineration, Plaskett noted. He said that could pose problems for DPNR in implementation if the bill were to become law and might provoke a legal challenge. Plaskett also noted there is no definition of "agricultural waste," which the bill exempts from the ban, along with "yard waste."
Erva Denham, League of Women Voters president, also wanted to know why the burning of yard waste would still be permitted. "Who is going to check to see that plastics or other excluded materials are not mixed in when it is burned?" she asked.
Denham said this is not the first time the League has been asked to testify on such legislation. She suggested another "long look at landfills and other methods of handling solid waste, as well as legislation to create a waste management authority."
Sonya Nelthropp, Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood's technical assistant on waste management, said at a PWD workshop on St. Croix last week that an interim plan is in place to handle solid waste by the December 2002 deadline the Federal Administration Agency has set for the government to close the Anguilla landfill on St. Croix.
The FAA has threatened to close the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport adjacent to the landfill if the deadline is not met, because the landfill poses an aviation hazard. Nelthropp said bids were being taken for a proposed interim facility on St. Croix.
To deal with the territory's solid waste long term, the Turnbull administration has chosen Caribe Waste Technologies to build a $180 million waste-to-energy gasification plant, a project that could take up to three years. Donastorg's bill, drafted in 1999, doesn't address the CWT plant.
Bill Turner, representing the St. Croix Environmental Association, said his group found no fault with the incineration bill.
But John Levering, president of John Levering and Associates on St. John, said the measure was "admirable in intent, but it may inadvertently limit options that can protect human health." Levering suggested his own company's "commercially proven conventional combustion waste to-energy plan." CWT's gasification plant is not "commercially proven," an objection stressed by energy consultants at a WAPA board meeting last week.
Cole and some other senators said they didn't like the idea of barging St. Thomas and St. John waste to St. Croix, which is an element of the CWT plan.
All of the experts suggested postponing a decision on the bill. Jack Thomas of Brownfields Recovery Corp. said, "There's no simple answer. It's unwise to eliminate an important part of a larger solution."
Lucien Moolenaar, Health Department deputy commissioner for public health services, asked if the bill would close the door on the possibility of crematoriums in the territory. "With cemetery space running short rapidly, cremation may well prove an acceptable alternative," he said. He also wondered about the disposal of human body parts, which the bill doesn't address. He approved of the bill's stipulation allowing hospitals five years to convert from incineration to another form of disposal.
The bill's most vociferous proponent was Roan Creque, a Public Works special assistant, who said he was speaking as a private citizen. "Incineration kills," he declared repeatedly throughout the hearing. He said the territory "has spent $20 million on waste-management consultants" and that no incinerator can "meet EPA specs."
The bill was held in committee by a vote of 3-2, with Sens. Cole, Roosevelt David and Carlton Dowe voting to table the bill and Donastorg and Celestino A. White Sr. opposed. Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Adelbert Bryan were absent.
In other action, the committee approved a Coastal Zone Management minor permit for the Joseph John Markus Trust to build a dock and install three moorings at Lovango Cay off the northwest end of St. John.
Prior to hearing from Tom Bolt, attorney for the Markus Trust, Cole showed a video of the site taken Monday when he, Dowe and Rafe Boulon, chief of resource management for the V.I. National Park, visited the area.
Markus has owned the property for about three years, Bolt said, and he plans to keep it a private residence. The dock needs to be replaced, as the previous dock was destroyed by a hurricane.
Boulon said he felt the landowners had a right to construct a dock giving access to their land from the sea, but he had environmental concerns. He said the proposed location for the dock poses a threat to coral heads in the area and should be changed. Also, he said, the permit application shouldn't refer to a "replacement" of the former dock, as the proposed new one is "substantially larger."
Denham also testified on the CZM permit. She said the LWV had concerns about turbidity and sediment control and the monitoring of silting and turbidity once the dock is completed. Bolt produced a turbidity report and assured Denham the project would be closely monitored. He endorsed Boulon's recommendation to move the dock to a deeper-water location.
Bolt said the project could have the effect of bringing "multimillion dollars in tax revenues" to the Virgin Islands because the trust's holders plan to establish the V.I. as their legal residence.
The permit was approved on a unanimous vote by Cole, David, Donastorg Dowe and White, with Hansen and Bryan absent.

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