Caribe Waste Technologies' sales pitch for the Thermoselect process in the Virgin Islands is an ever-changing phenomenon. It began with an expensive system being the right choice for a small community plagued by a budget crisis. For a mere $37 million, every year for 30 years, and a nominal installation cost of $180 million, our waste would become the fuel of the future. We could, the CWT officials suggested, rid ourselves of all of our garbage woes if we would just sign on the dotted line.
The debate has raged since then:
Arguments about the feasibility of the plant managing a municipal waste stream have led to a hung jury.
Arguments about the financing of the operation have led most people to question why the arguments even started; how on Earth can we afford to buy a luxury SUV when our old clunker just broke down and we have no money in the bank? By the way, it would be wise not to ask the Senate that question.
Arguments about the reliability of the plant have become just plain boring because we do not know if there is a satisfactory answer.
This week, however, has produced an absurd argument. Collier County, Florida, a wealthy slice of Florida's Gulf Coast, has negotiated for a Thermoselect plant. Now, some have said, we should do the same, since this respectable county (home of the city of Naples) has done so.
Should we now sign on the dotted line for our Thermoselect plant? The collective "duh" that came from most people I know is a great answer for that question. Why? Simple facts tell the tale. We cannot compare Collier County with our situation. Collier County has 251,000 residents; we have only 110,000. Collier County can probably afford fancy new technology; we cannot even afford to clean up our dumps. Collier County can move waste without shipping costs; we would have to ship almost everything. The list could go on.
Make no mistake; the issue here is not about waste to energy working in the Virgin Islands. The issue is whether or not we should break the bank for a system that is not right for us. The solution seems obvious to me. I can only hope that it seems obvious to the people making this decision.
Editor's note: Bill Turner, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, was formerly a teacher and vice principal at the high school level in Puerto Rico.
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