Dec. 7, 2004 After an almost four-year bureaucratic impasse, action was taken Monday on putting to use a tire shredder at the Bovoni Landfill.
The Department of Public Works announced in 2000 that people couldn't bring their old tires any longer to the Bovoni Landfill. Lester Ashby, Bovoni landfill contractor and owner of A-9 Trucking, bought a tire shredder to chew up the unwanted tires of St. Thomas and St. John. Since January of 2001, Ashby has been caught up in government bureaucracy. The most recent obstacle to his progress had been a zoning restriction. (See "Dead Tires Have No Place to Rest").
At a public Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Management rezoning hearing Monday, the project was soundly endorsed by the public, by the Bovoni Homeowners Association, and, most importantly, by the V.I. Government.
Edgar Baker-Phillips, acting director of Property and Procurement, presented the department's plans for the rezoning to accommodate the tire shredder and to situate an area for storing and detoxifying abandoned cars. The zoning request is a change from R-1 residential-low density to P-public. About 30 years ago when the landfill was moved from the East End of the island to Bovoni, it was a residential area and residents were told it would be there only two years, Bovoni residents have said. However, the zoning has never been changed.
Baker-Phillips displayed proposed zoning changes on maps of the landfill. He stressed the urgency in accommodating the changes. He emphasized the hazard the growing mountains of tires pose to island residents. The tires are notorious mosquito-breeding havens.
On top of that, the landfill stopped accepting tires last month because there is no more room. Enrique Rodriguez, general manager of Rodriguez Auto Parts and chairman of the V.I. Tire Dealers Association, said last month he has limited space to store the tires, and soon the car owners will be left on their own. It is illegal to dump tires anywhere except the landfill.
James O 'Bryan, St. Thomas Water Island administrator, who also heads the abandoned car project which has been stalled for a year, said, "We have to act with dispatch. After number of meetings, it's clear now we have to act." He said, "The governor is committed to signing the rezoning. It's a priority."
O' Bryan said, without being able to take the tires to the landfill, they are being "tossed all over the island in the absence of any place to put them."
The recent outbreak of dengue fever and reports of West Nile fever in Puerto Rico accentuate the need for swift action on ridding the island of the tires, Baker-Phillips said Monday. The Health Department has reported eight cases of dengue on St. Thomas, one of which took the life of an infant in October.
There is also the issue of tires that have been accumulating for 30 years at the landfill, many of which are from government vehicles. Neither Baker-Phillips nor Jimez Ashby, Lester Ashby's son and a certified landfill manager with A-9 trucking, could say what percentage of the tires belong to the government, nor what will be done about paying for their disposal.
"I think that is a very key issue," said Marjorie Hendricks-Emanuel, CZM director of coastal zone planning.
Phillips-Baker said he would present the situation to Marc Biggs, Property and Procurement commissioner, and Wayne Callwood, Public Works Department commissioner, and try to work out a solution.
Ashby said once shredding is under way, "our first priority is to shred the tires that we have been paid to dispose of." He said the shredded tire product can be used for road paving. In other places, he said, it is used to on playground or ballfields.
Victor Somme III, CZM director, questioned using the product on playgrounds, saying studies show that the tires leak oil. Rodriguez countered: "I've been in the tire business for 30 years, and it's impossible for oil to leak There is none left. Would playgrounds use the product if it leaked oil?"
Somme suggested laying down a liner to catch the oil. Ashby said he is already paying Rodriguez $2 per tire, and putting in a liner would increase the cost. Bovoni Homeowners Association secretary Rosita Morgan suggested the government foot the cost. "The area has suffered too much. This should not be on Mr. Ashby's shoulders.
Morgan and Terecita Rivera, association president, praised Ashby's efforts to get the shredder in place. "He has worked with the community, and we feel he will continue to do so," said Rivera. "It's hard, we are ill and nobody cares. We need something in place right away."
Ashby said he plans to dig down into the solid rock which will surround the shredder and make a dike using the shredded tires. He said the material would also be used to cover the garbage in the rest of the landfill.
Kevin Ruffler, of V. I. Recycling said he was anxious to get the vehicle disposal area in use under the rezoning. "We always run into snags," he said. "I have had friends come to visit and they think the island is beautiful until we drive around and they see the abandoned vehicles on the roads, and the piles of tires. They ask 'what's wrong with your government?'"
However, he said health is the main issue. "Mosquitoes pose the most present danger," he said. "If you look at those stacks of tires, they would be reduced by a ratio of 40 to one after shredding. It reduces the size of a tire by 40 percent."
The next step in the process is for CZM to make its recommendation for a zoning change to the Legislature. If it should be passed, it goes to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for his signature. O'Bryan assured everybody Monday the governor would sign.
Though a Dec. 15 special session of the Legislature has been called by Acting Gov. Vargrave Richards, the session will address the ratification of the franchise agreement between the V.I. Horse Racing Commission and TRAXCO, Inc. and a ratification of the sublease agreement between the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation and TRAXCO, Inc. only.
Rodriguez wrote Richards Monday asking him to consider including the tire rezoning on the agenda. "I am writing with an urgent plea for your assistance in calling an emergency meeting of the Committee of the Whole to hear a petition for rezoning for parcel 1-20-1 Estate Bovoni," he wrote Richards.
Rodriguez told Richards, "The DPNR public hearing met today, and public testimony reaffirmed the pressing need to begin shredding tires before we have a full-blown dengue fever epidemic."
Legislature legal counsel Yvonne Tharpes said Tuesday that a special session is limited to the agenda presented. Unless the governor amends it himself, no other items can be added to the agenda. Tharpes said she is researching the issue, since there were a couple cases in the past where items were added, and she has had several calls on the subject. However, that is the way the law stands now, she said.
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