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Citizens Sought to Become Waste Management Problem Solvers

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Aug. 24, 2005— May Adams Cornwall, executive director of the V.I. Waste Management Authority, hopes to find real solutions to long-standing problems with waste collection and disposal with the help of community members.
Through citizen advisory committees, which the WMA plans on establishing in early September, residents will be able to take part in the authority's decision-making process, help curb the overflow of garbage at bin sites and landfills, and come up with creative alternatives for disposal of used oil, and other forms of hazardous trash.
Additionally, the committees will look at issues such as preventing the release of hazardous materials into the island's water system — a situation which WMA officials say is a big concern relative to public health. "There are things like paint, paint thinners, chemicals that come from appliances such as refrigerators at dump sites that are going to have adverse affects on our island's water supply," John Green, director of the WMA's Environmental Programs Division, said. "These are the things that we need the public's help in addressing."
Speaking at a meeting, attended by about 40 people Wednesday evening at the Education Department's Curriculum Center, Cornwall said that overflowing bin sites and landfills are the WMA's primary concerns for St. Thomas.
It will be the task of the citizen committees to decide how those concerns will be addressed. House-to-house trash collection and transfer stations are two potential solutions being considered. "Our goal is to eliminate bin sites altogether, and the transfer stations will function as sort of a one-stop trash disposal center. The committee will decide how many we need per island, and residents will take their trash there to be taken care of," Cornwall said.
Warrington Chapman, director of the Solid Waste division, said part of the problem is residents are trashing items that are reusable. "There's a lot of cash in trash, and we have to look for ways to reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover what we don't need to throw away. Unfortunately, there is not a substantial recycling program here in the territory, and that hinders the effort."
Responding to Chapman's four "Rs" policy, many residents at the meeting encouraged an increase in the practice of composting, which turns organic material into nutrient-rich soil. "Not only will composting benefit agriculture, but it can be used as seed money to help some of the smaller businesses grow," Helen Gjessing, environmentalist community activist, said.
Chapman added " I think that we need to realize that other waste materials may be used in the production of alternate energy for the territory…we burn the trash, give our used oil to the Water and Power Authority, and we can yield electricity."
Many residents were in support of this idea — especially in the face of rising local and national fuel costs. "There is a possibility, if the oil is good and clean, that it maybe able to help us out with our fuel concerns," Cornwall said.
Attendees also expressed concern about the proper disposal of cooking oil and grease from commercial operations.
Stella Saunders, public information director for the authority, said if properly contained home cooking oil can be taken to the landfill. Restaurants and other commercial operations are required to use companies that specialize in waste disposal to handle their used grease.
Cornwall also responded to questions about the four alternative small power producers currently vying for a contract to supply power to the Water and Power Authority — two of which are able to generate power from waste. "A company like that would be able to help us greatly with our problems," Cornwall said.
The WMA is also focusing on expanding its do-it-yourself oil collection sites, so that the large amount of used oil generated each day by the public will be disposed of properly. Currently, while residents are producing approximately 35,000 gallons of used oil per year, the WMA is only collecting 800 gallons per month. "The other oil comes from commercial sources on the island," Cornwall said. "We have no control over that—only DPNR [Department of Planning and Natural Resources] does, and they have contracted haulers to get the oil off the island."
Encouraging citizen participation on the advisory committees, Cornwall said, "We need the community to participate…there are things that we need to fix, standards we need to meet…the WMA will be able to function completely with your help."
Residents at Wednesday's meeting filled out applications for a position on the committee and will be notified in early September as to whether or not they have received a position. Cornwall said the size of the committees will be determined by the type of issue being addressed. The WMA staff will conduct the first round of reviews of the applications, but Cornwall said, if there seems to be a need to add members, the committees will have input, too.
Committees will be formed and informational meetings are being held on all three islands. St. Croix's meeting was held Tuesday night. St. John residents will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Julius E. Sprauve School cafeteria. For more information or to obtain an application call 773-4489.

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