July 3, 2002 – The U.S. Department of Interior says it will deliver a remediation plan for the Water Island demolition site found to be contaminated with asbestos.
According to a statement released from Interior's Office of Insular Affairs in Washington, D.C., office on Wednesday, the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency in charge of the demolition work, is consulting with the V.I. government and the Environmental Protection agency and will submit its cleanup plan by Monday.
Interior officials confirmed test results revealed earlier this week by the Planning and Natural Resources Department. "Initial inspections indicate that less than 50 pounds of corrugated transite have been found in the stockpile area adjacent to the transfer station," Edgar Johnson, Interior's liaison to the Virgin Islands, said in the release.
The transite, a concrete mix, was found to contain non-friable transite asbestos, according to the release. Friable asbestos is the type that crumbles and can become airborne.
The two agencies appear to have differing opinions as to whether the reclamation site supervisor and his contractor followed standard procedures for asbestos abatement in tearing down a group of abandoned villas in an area near the old Sea Cliff Hotel called the catchment basin. The Bureau of Reclamation is conducting the demolition work as part of federal cleanup efforts to complete the transfer of the island to the V.I. government.
"There was some gap — that somehow there was an oversight and some of the permits were overlooked," DPNR environmental enforcement chief Leonard Reed said. But in his statement, Johnson said, "This work was reviewed and approved by the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources under Federal Consistency regulations."
Earlier this week, DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett said Interior had obtained a federal permit to tear down the buildings but failed to secure the required local permits for transporting the building rubble to the dump site.
Water Island residents are expressing their concerns to the EPA about being exposed to asbestos-laden dust raised at the demolition site and by heavy equipment operators crushing debris at a site adjacent to a residential trash dump operated by the Public Works Department.
Public Works closed the dump site on June 14 after an employee who lives on Water Island presented evidence of asbestos contamination.
One island resident says some of the current problems could have been avoided if Interior's site manager had kept promises made at a public meeting last year. Contractor Brad Monroe said residents were told then that they would be kept up to date about the demolition work, that debris would be hosed down to keep dust from flying, and that debris from the old Sea Cliff Hotel — the first phase of the demolition work — would have been removed from the island by now.
Monroe's wife, Colette, is president of the Water Island Civic Association. She "has papers telling how the concrete was supposed to be broken into 4-inch blocks" and then taken to the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas, he said. "They were also supposed to remove debris from the old hotel, but they never did, and now they're dumping asbestos debris from the villas on top of that," he said.
Now, Monroe said, he fears the extent of asbestos contamination will never be known, because debris from both phases of the demolition have been mixed. Whoever winds up with the job of cleaning it all up, he said, has a problem on their hands.

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