After missing multiple deadlines to finish tasks that need to be completed before the territory’s landfills can close, the V.I. Waste Management Authority will set deadlines that it can adhere to going forward.
On Tuesday, VIWMA officials and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice met in District Court to discuss progress toward completing priority items. The hearings, which are held on a quarterly basis, are meant to keep the VIWMA on track with the closures.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed the suit against the V.I. government in late November 2015 after the V.I. Waste Management Authority kept missing deadlines for turning in closure plans and status reports for the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas and the Anguilla landfill on St. Croix.
The VIWMA has since entered a court-mandated consent decree. According to the decree, the target date for Anguilla’s closure is June 30, 2020. The Bovoni decree doesn’t indicate a specific date but notes it must be closed two years and two months after it stops accepting waste on April 30, 2019.
Roger Merritt, VIWMA’s new executive director, testified during the hearing. He said he’s only been in the position for three days but that the Honorable Curtis V. Gomez wanted to get his opinion on how the authority plans to get on course.
“The judge asked why we aren’t meeting our deadlines and we explained that we need to extend them and finish figuring out the finances,” Merritt said.
Merritt explained that over the next 30 days he’s going to set reasonable deadlines to make sure the required tasks are getting done. The authority plans to update the court on its progress every 30 days.
“One of my goals is to set realistic and achievable deadlines with milestones to make sure we’re staying the course,” Merritt said.
Officials from the EPA are growing increasingly frustrated that the authority continues to miss deadlines and that none of the ordered tasks have been completed to date.
In past hearings, VIWMA has said it hasn’t been able to meet the deadlines for closure plans due to funding shortfalls. The estimated cost of closing the Bovoni and Anguilla landfills is $115 million but this number is subject to change as more trash is put into them.
In late October the V.I. Waste Management Authority approved a memorandum of understanding with the Public Finance Authority to fund $3.1 million in court ordered projects at the territory’s landfills.
The priority items that were stipulated by the court that VIWMA needs to complete include purchasing and installing a high-volume tire shredder, relocating utility poles, constructing an access road, building a berm and removing scrap metal.
Merritt said the authority wants to make sure the money is spent correctly and added that it had to get bids for the projects and make contracts.
The liquid, known as leachate, that is draining from the landfill and going into nearby sediment ponds also needs to be tested for heavy metals and other pollutants. Merritt said that Gomez wants the authority to have a plan in place to address the issue. A water quality consultant is coming to test the water and assess its affects on surrounding groundwater in early December.
Merritt said there was some discussion of when the landfill closures would happen after the priority items are completed and that he needs to review the aerial photos of the landfills after they are taken next month.
The photos help determine how much space is left in the landfills. By implementing a plastic bag ban, bottle deposit law and comprehensive recycling plan, the government is hoping to extend the lives of the landfills.
“The protection of human health is our leading concern, so we want to get these priority items addressed as soon as possible,” Merritt said.