March 25, 2003 – Legislation to create a Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority to consolidate and oversee efforts at solving the territory's ever-mounting waste problems will see the light of day by this summer and likely become a reality yet this year, the chair of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee said on Monday.
Sonia Nelthropp, Public Works Department senior manager for federal compliance, detailed plans for the authority before the committee on Monday afternoon.
Sen. Louis Hill, the committee chair, is the primary sponsor for new legislation creating an authority. He pledged to move the measure expeditiously, starting with a series of public meetings to educate the public on the concept before the bill reaches the floor.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull pushed for the 24th Legislature to approve the creation of such an authority, but his bill languished in committee and ultimately died.
The Waste Management Authority would take the territory's outdated sewer systems and the overextended Anguilla and Bovoni landfills off Public Works' hands. But that is just the beginning, Nelthropp told the senators.
The landfills, she noted, "are not landfills; they are dumps." And under the new semi-autonomous authority, she said, the "dumps" would fall within an integrated, comprehensive solid-waste management program to include the construction of solid-waste disposal facilities, possibly separate plants on each island.
Hill asked Nelthropp the status of the government's contract with Caribe Waste Technologies, a company the Public Services Commission declared a qualified provider of electricity last summer, despite the Water and Power Authority's strenuous efforts to rid itself of any obligation to deal with the company, including purchasing power at a cost of millions of dollars a year that WAPA could just as well produce on its own. (See "PSC certifies Caribe Waste as power producer".)
Nelthropp said her information not might be current, but she thought the Property and Procurement Department was no longer in negotiation with CWT because of unresponsiveness.
Hill also asked about the status of the "bail and wrap" operations to deal with solid waste on St. Croix on an interim basis as an alternative to continuing to use the Anguilla landfill. Nelthropp said that "whatever contracts are in place" when the Waste Management Authority is formed "will be forwarded to them."
Last June, the government chose Landfill Technologies Corp., a waste-management company in Puerto Rico, to set up a bale-and-wrap facility at the Anguilla site, which is owned by the Port Authority but operated by Public Works. The interim procedure is to be utilized until the territory has a new permanent waste-disposal system in place for St. Croix.
CWT's gasification processing proposal has an astronomical price tag, Nelthropp said, but she disagreed with critics who have said the proposed system is untried. "Gasification has been with us for many years; it is not new from my point of view," she said. Further, she said, "it need not be a $200 million program if each district decided it needed a component of gasification."
The plan is, she said: "We are going to go ahead and bring in a computer model, so communities can determine what they want. If Bovoni is closed, they may put a gasifier in its place."
Hill asked about the idea of having a waste authority for each district. "Right now we are crafting the budget process that way," Nelthropp said. "The fees collected on the respective islands would be used for their particular needs. There will be so much funding coming in, there won't be a fight for what they need."
Hill stated: "As we seek to formulate and shape public policy, we need all the information we can get, and this is critical information."
Funding for the authority would come from a variety of sources. Nelthropp said a new import tax would help — a "penny per pound" tax on all incoming goods which will eventually become garbage. She said the tax would hardly be felt by residents, yet could generate $30 million annually.
She noted that the formula would amount to $20 a ton for bags of potato chips. Spread over 2,000 or more bags, "you won't even see it in the price,"she said.
"The final determination of figures on the penny-per-pound issue is being reviewed by a major stateside auditing firm," Hill said later. "As soon as they have decided it makes sense, I'll have my bill in, perhaps in May, but in June absolutely." He added that his legislation is "pretty much secured in the majority."
Authority responsibilities, resources
A Waste Management Authority Fact Sheet states that other funding would come from fees from sewer and septic system use and landfill tipping: residential collection; a percentage of the increase to come in federal rum tax returns to the territory; federal construction grants and loans from federal entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency; a descending subsidy from the V.I. government over a five-year period; and issuance of Waste Management Authority bonds.
The semi-autonomous authority would be similar in structure to WAPA, with a seven-member governing board to include government and private-sector members.
Advocates say the authority could take some of the politics and finger-pointing out of waste management operations. For several years, Public Works, the Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration have been wrangling over the fate of the Anguilla dump. The FAA had set a Dec. 31, 2002, deadline for the V.I. government to close the landfill, saying birds feeding there and smoke from fires pose a threat to planes landing and taking off. Although the deadline came and went, the FAA subsequently agreed to monitor V.I. progress toward eventually closing the dump. (See the St. Croix Source story "Callwood: FAA satisfied with landfill progress".)
The authority would be responsible for its own debts, assets, contracts, expenditures, funds, facilities and property. It would conduct its own contract negotiations with private companies, whereas all waste contracts must now go through Property and Procurement.
The Anti-Litter and Beautification program would be transferred to the authority but would continue to be funded by current sources.
Within 270 days of its creation by law, ownership, possession and control of all waste-management equipment and facilities currently under Public Works would be transferred to the authority, along with all contracts, leases, grants and other Public Works funding.
Personnel currently working in solid waste and related divisions would be transferred to the authority.
Responsibility for waste management and liability for current federal consent orders also would be transferred within the 270 days.
In response to questions from Sen. Ronald Russell about the status of the wastewater system on St. Croix, Nelthropp said the entire system is in "dire need of overhauling." She added: "Over the years, the system has been neglected, and now the situation is critical."
Nelthropp said funding for her division is "woefully diminished," but employees are struggling, with some literally working seven days a week. She said there is funding "for repairs, but not for staffing."
Even so, she said, the federal EPA "seems pretty pleased at the manner in which we're approaching our wastewater problems."

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