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Senators Frustrated by WMA Lack of Progress

July 20, 2005 — At Wednesday's public hearing to address concerns about the Waste Management Authority, senators were frustrated to hear that the agency has made little progress in its quest to become self-funded. Not only has the WMA failed to enact user fees, the agency has made virtually no progress on creating a working tire disposal site and seem to be behind schedule in addressing the upcoming staffing transition between WMA and the Department of Public Works.
In 2004 the WMA was established by law to take over solid waste and wastewater management duties from the Department of Public Works.
Focused primarily on the status of the shifting of employees from Public Works to WMA, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg asked department officials whether a list of employees to be transitioned between the two departments has been compiled. Donastorg was told by WMA board member Keith E. Richards that these entities were still within a 365-day transition period and had until the end of that time to compile the list.
Frustrated by Richards' answer, Donastorg asked the WMA panel to submit a list of transitional employees by the end of the week, as well as an inventory of all equipment transferred to the WMA from DPW. (DPW acting commissioner George Phillips did not appear at Wednesday's hearing to give testimony on the staffing transition.)
Iver Stridiron, legal counsel for the WMA, told Donastorg that memorandums of agreements had been created between the two agencies stipulating the transfer of property and assets (including equipment, facilities, and vehicles), but have not been signed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. "We're just waiting for his signature, and then everything will transfer," Stridiron said.
Once the transfer of employees and equipment is complete, the WMA is supposed to function as an autonomous agency, securing its funding from a user fee on goods coming in from the mainland which would end up at the dump site.
However, Stridiron said that the WMA has not gotten very far in the process, noting that WMA had recently conducted its first meeting with the contractor hired to develop the environmental user fee and that WMA will continue to receive money from the General Fund for operations until the fee structure is developed.
"This is ridiculous," Sen. Louis P. Hill said. "You should have instituted this user fee right away … then you would be able to function on your own right now." Hill added that while he understands that this fee will place an additional cost on the consumer for garbage disposal, he also thinks that the average consumer should accept that "at some point in time they would have to pay."
"We shouldn't be afraid to implement this … the consumer pays for the disposal of garbage everywhere else in the U.S.," Hill said.
Hill became more agitated as he further questioned the authority's chief financial officer, Deandre Atwell, on the collective amount of money received from the General Fund and other sources for fiscal year 2005— $33.5 million, with an additional $96.7 million acquired for capital projects.
Atwell indicated that approximately $52 million is committed to the building of new waste management facilities on St. Thomas and St. Croix, while other money is to assist with operations and ensure a smooth transition between DPW and the WMA.
Senators were additionally interested in the status of measures being implemented for proper tire disposal in the territory, as piles of old tires have continued to build at dump sites.
WMA Chairman Winston Adams didn't have good news for the senators, noting that the lease for the land to set up tire disposal operations is still being negotiated, and that there is no power at the dump site to operate a tire shredder.
Adams added that a tire shredded has been on St. Thomas since 2000, but has been unable to operate because there is no electricity at the Bovoni landfill to power it.
"Additionally, shredded tires aren't being taken by [disposal] companies in the states anymore," Adams said. "They want whole tires, and the cost for shipping all of that is expensive."
Senators proposed alternative means of disposal, asking whether shredded pieces could be buried or used in the production of asphalt for roads. Frustrating senators even further was Adams' response that he would have to hold special sessions with the community to get their input on the matter before anything is decided on.
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville called for Adams to start acting quickly with tire disposal, as many abandoned tires serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can transmit dengue fever.
"With people dying in St. Croix of the virus, all precautions must be taken to eliminate all sources for mosquito breeding," Figueroa-Serville said.
Senators present at Wednesday's meeting were Liston Davis, Donastorg, Hill, Figueroa-Serville, and Usie Richards. Sens. Shawn Michael Malone, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, and Ronald Russell were excused.
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