Aug. 3, 2005 Although a Health Department official said Wednesday that the territory is currently experiencing an epidemic of dengue fever, a Waste Management Authority meeting on St. Thomas with tire dealers and other stakeholders failed to produce an immediate solution as to how to dispose of the tires where the mosquitoes breed.
However, the meeting was more productive than several recent meetings on the issue. A similar meeting was held last week on St. Croix. (See "V.I. Officials, Tire Vendors Discuss Discarded Tire Problem".) WMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall called together tire dealers and officers from the several government departments that have a hand in the problem.
John Green, WMA environmental program director, provided an overview of the issue and introduced the various stakeholders. "We hope to give everyone a voice and try to decide on our next step," he said. According to Green, an estimated 280,000 tires come into the Virgin Islands every year.
Present at the meeting was Jimez Ashby, son of Lester Ashby, owner of A-9 Trucking, which manages the Bovoni Landfill. Back in 2000, when Public Works announced people could no longer bring their old tires to the Bovoni Landfill, Ashby bought a tire shredder to chew up the unwanted tires of St. Thomas and St. John. Since that time, Ashby has been burrowing through mountains of government bureaucracy almost as high as the 25-foot mountains of tires still awaiting disposal.
Jimez Ashby, a certified landfill manager with A-9 Trucking, threw up his hands in frustration at one point during Wednesday's meeting. "My lease has been sitting in the attorney general's office for two and a half months. I need to apply now for a major Coastal Zone Management permit, they say, which I can't do without the lease," Ashby said. "My CZM temporary permit expired on July 16. I wrote requesting a renewal on March 2. So far, I have heard nothing, nothing in writing, no phone calls."
Ashby said it's as if one department doesn't talk to the other. "I will get something settled with DPNR [Department of Planning and Natural Resources], " he said, "and then DPW [Department of Public Works] will say something else. I have supplied so much information to all the departments that they come back to me asking me questions based on information I supplied in the first place. They come to me to tell me where I'm wrong, using my own material."
Ashby looked at Cornwall. "I should charge WMA a consulting fee," he said, with a smile.
Ashby explained that a huge problem is that DPNR is now requiring him to line the landfill, which was not originally specified. "If they had told me at the beginning, I could have included it in my plans, and it would be done now. It costs about $200,000, and I don't think we need it. It's to prevent the tires leeching in the ground, but the landfill is on rock."
Cornwall agreed with Ashby. She said she would work at getting that decision reversed and expressed disappointment at not having all the invited agencies in attendance. "Dean Plaskett [DPNR commissioner] should be here, and so should a Fire Service representative."
Jason Henry of the St. Croix DPNR office spoke briefly as he had a plane to catch. The Fire Service sent a memo outlining the requirements for storing tires.
Cornwall said tire storage sites must be found as soon as possible.
Currently the Bovoni Landfill is closed and cannot take any more tires. Ashby estimated "at least one million tires are there now."
Enrique Rodriguez, of Rodriguez Auto Parts on St. Thomas, said, "One million is a conservative estimate. I remember going out there when I was 12 years old, and they were about a foot high then."
Cornwall mentioned the possibility of implementing a fee on all tires imported to go to the Waste Management Authority to pay for tire disposal and to clean up dump sites. Rodriguez said that a better idea would be to implement a $20 fee on all car registrations and a $100 fee on all tractor trailers and heavy equipment registrations. The WMA has hired a consulting firm to determine the user fee to be assessed to ultimately support the agency.
Rodriguez gave a detailed explanation of the costs of importing the tires, who pays for taxes, who generates used tire and who pays tire disposal fees. He suggested a system where the tire fees were collected one time each year, a user fee to be collected when registering a car would be the easiest way to do it. He said the customer "would get mad once, he would pay once, and he would get over it." If tires had to be collected from the retailer each time he buys a tire, maybe four time a year, Rodriguez said, "he gets mad four times."
And a retailer could collect fees twice, if he was unscrupulous, Rodriguez said by collecting from the consumer and selling the old tires to a new consumer and collecting again. He said charging by the retailer leads to confusion and to customers resorting to illegal dumping.
Jose Penn, who has a trucking and car rental business on St. John, said, "It's not a new problem I've been listening to this discussion for years. We need action."
Nobody disagreed with Penn, but getting an action plan in place proved difficult.
Ray Fonseca, Department of Health administrator, said, "We have an epidemic now. We have 40 to 50 cases of dengue in the territory. The number to declare an epidemic is five."
Under questioning, he said the DOH has ordered fogging units to be mounted on trucks and hand foggers, as well. No fogging has been done in the territory for years, he acknowledged. He said, however, the foggers don't attack the Aedea aegypti mosquito, the one which breeds in dark places, like tires.
Fonseca said inspectors from the Centers for Disease Control are in the territory now, working with professionals to help them handles the dengue cases.
Fonseca said later that he wasn't declaring an "official" epidemic the DOH commissioner would have to do that. However, he agreed that if five cases is considered an epidemic and the territory has between 40 to 50 cases, that is an epidemic.
During the meeting, representatives from the Bovoni Homeowners Association made their pleas heard. Rosita Howard, association secretary, asked Cornwall, "Please help Mr. Ashby to get the tire shredder up and running. Who has to die for the government to take action?"
Howard said the Bovoni residents are suffering heavily from the mosquito infestations. "I opened up a door in a storeroom the other day, and it was filled, filled with mosquitoes," she said. "It's terrible." The Bovoni residents have steadfastly followed all the number of Senate meetings on the subject for years.
Cornwall said there are several issues at stake — legislative, technical and financial. She said, "I will take the lead. I will put it in writing and get the agencies together. I will ask our legal counsel, former Attorney General Iver Stridiron, to get that lease out of the Justice Department. We must get all stakeholders together on this."
Cornwall said there will be a following meeting on St. John soon. Sen. Liston Davis and representatives from the offices of Sens. Lorraine Berry and Roosevelt David attended the meeting.
Editor's Note: In a subsequent interview, WMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall stated that DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett was not invited to nor expected to attend this meeting.
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