Lack of payment to contract trash collectors and lack of repairs to roads were the main topics at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday on St. John.
Angry contractors responsible for collecting the island’s trash told the Government Operations Committee they are still waiting for vendor payments. In some cases, they said, the payments owed them amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
James Penn of Penn Enterprises said he has been waiting a year and a half to be paid. Last fall, Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II met with island haulers to assure them they would be paid quickly. Penn said he submitted the necessary paperwork promptly and is still waiting.
According to Lew Sewer of LTS Waste Management, "It’s easier to move tons of garbage than to find out where your paperwork is. . . And as hard as it is to find the paperwork, they know where to find you when there’s work."
Representatives of Penn Enterprises, LTS, Penn’s Trucking, Boyson Inc. and Ken’s Trucking helped fill the Cruz Bay Legislative Conference Room for the hearing. Several others, along with Penn, complained in their testimony of empty promises and empty wallets.
Sen. Gregory Bennerson, the committee chair, commented at one point, "On St. Croix, we often say we feel forgotten. If we feel forgotten on St. Croix, I can imagine what St. John feels like."
The Wednesday, Jan. 12, hearing was the second held on St. John to address trash collection problems that have plagued the island. In addition to lack of vendor payments, trash collection on the island has been impacted in the last two months by the breakdown of the trash compactor at the Susannaberg transfer station and the subsequent closing of the station and a directive to private haulers transport their truckloads of trash to the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas themselves.
Public Works Commissioner Harold F. Thompson Jr. said that 1999 was "a year of trial for solid waste in the territory." And the troubles have not gone away in the new year, he added, saying, "We face serious challenges to operating within our means."
When Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd asked the commissioner if he knew how much money was owed to St. John haulers, Thompson said he did not know.
Several committee members asked administration officials what had become of the $47 million from the government's recent $300 bond sale that had been earmarked to pay vendors.
Office of Management and Budget director Ira Mills told Bennerson he was aware of the meeting between the lieutenant governor and the haulers but understood there was a problem getting the paperwork in order, a comment that drew derisive laughter from many in the meeting room.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said it is unfair to penalize St. John’s trash haulers by bogging them down in bureaucracy. He said phantom paperwork on the books at the Finance Department shows vendors as having been paid — and owing gross receipts taxes on money they have not received.
On the road deterioration issue, residents along Bordeaux Mountain Road told Bennerson and his committee that they literally feared for their lives as they made daily trips to work and back to their homes. "Traveling Route 108 is a very frightening experience," Amy Trayser testified. "The danger of the road is well beyond potholes."
Although it is a designated federal road and federal funds have been allocated for its upkeep, Trayser and other area residents said, Route 108 has deteriorated so badly that elderly and disabled residents living on Bordeaux are cut off from access to services. Senior citizen and church vans and emergency vehicles cannot get to them, she said.
Trayser recalled for the committee having had a conversation with St. John Deputy Fire Chief Brian Chapman concerning the road. She said Chapman had told her that the road was in such a bad state that he could not ensure a prompt response time by his firetrucks in case of a fire emergency in the area.
The roadway is down to one lane in parts, she told St. John Source after the meeting, and if two vehicles meet, "one of them must back up." The surface is "down to bedrock in parts, washed out in places, with a sheer dropoff at the narrowest, roughest section," she said. "All we are asking at this point is for fill and grade, not for a whole repaving project."


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