Aug. 13, 2002 – It will cost millions of dollars to bring the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas into compliance with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate, but it will cost the territory millions and millions of dollars if it is not done, government officials told a Senate committee on Monday night.
Although much work has been done to upgrade the landfill, much more needs to be done to bring it into compliance with EPA standards, the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee was told.
Testifying about solid waste and wastewater issues in the St. Thomas-St. John district were Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood; his solid waste specialist, Sonya Nelthropp; Hollis Griffin, director of the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Environmental Protection Division; and Roan Creque, longtime Public Works employee and now, newly appointed by the governor, its deputy commissioner for operations.
Discussion focused on a consent decree the territory entered into with the EPA two years ago which requires major improvements at the landfill to protect the health and environment of residents. Last year, the EPA fined the V.I. government $75,000 for failure to comply with mandated cleanup at the dump.
The landfill, which serves both St. Thomas and St. John, is operated by Public Works but DPNR regulates its progress. Nelthropp, who is senior manager for DPW's federal compliance program, said strides have been made. She said fencing off of the area to prevent illegal dumping is almost finished, and used batteries as toxic waste have been shipped off island.
Callwood said his department is doing its best, but "it will take millions of dollars to come into compliance, which the department doesn't have at this time."
Griffin said, "There have been significant improvements, but many other areas must make improvements … If they are not improved, it will cost this territory millions and millions of dollars." He commended DPW for what it has accomplished. "But, we are regulators, not cheerleaders," he added. Among present concerns, he said, are these:
– Groundwater and methane are not being monitored.
– Paper, plastic bags and other debris are being caught in the wind and not picked up.
– Procedures are lacking to prevent sewage, sludge and hazardous waste from being discharged.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, the committee chair, asked about heavy dust created by the dump trucks on the Bovoni road leading to the landfill entrance, noting that it settles on roofs of nearby homes, contaminating cistern water. Callwood said he expects the road to be paved soon.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg asked Nelthropp for a timetable on a definite plan for managing the territory's solid waste. "I'm a little confused," he said. "It seems we are going around in circles. You said an action plan exists."
Nelthropp said an action plan does exist and is awaiting EPA approval. She began to explain a plan dating back to 1971, but Donastorg didn't want to hear about that. He asked if the solid-waste management system proposed by Caribe Waste Technologies, which recently was certified by the Public Services Commission as a small power provider, was a "little premature."
Creque said it wasn't premature. "It doesn't even exist," he said, "so it's not premature. The problem is, we got caught with our pants down. We have so little time, we have to go to an interim plan." He was referring to the Federal Aviation Administration order that the Anguilla landfill on St. Croix be closed by Dec. 31 because the birds it attracts and the smoke it creates pose hazards to planes landing and taking off at nearby Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
Because it will be years before a solid-waste processing system can be up and running, the government recently contracted a Puerto Rico firm to store St. Croix's solid waste, at a site to be determined, for up to five years utilizing bale-and-wrap techology.
Creque promised there would be no more excuses with regard to solid waste. "All this fancy terminology and consultants, they just slow the process down," he said. "Things will not be slowed down any more."
Committee member attending the hearing were Sens. Cole, Roosevelt David, Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Celestino A. White. Sen. Adelbert Bryan was absent.
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