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Waste Management Meeting May Clarify Its Future

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Feb. 22, 2008 — A meeting was scheduled for Friday that could help clarify the status of those currently charged with regulating the territory’s waste, in the wake of Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s State of the Territory address in January, according to the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (VIWMA).
DeJongh used the occasion to announce that he was dissolving the authority as it is currently structured, and putting it under the management of the central government.
Stella Saunders, VIWMA’s communications manager, said Thursday, "We're actually meeting with (members of) the board tomorrow, all the senior staff."
Saunders said she believes the board will clarify details of the governor’s announcement. "That’s the assumption, yes. We haven’t been given an agenda. When we have the meeting tomorrow, we’ll find out what cards are on the table," she said.
She said the meeting was not a public session, but a "staff meeting."
The governor met recently with Winston Adams, chairman of the VIWMA board, then headed to New York last week to meet with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region II, which oversees the territory’s compliance with federal laws. A press release issued after the New York session said the meeting was about "…plans by the (deJongh) Administration to restructure the VI Waste Management Authority…"
Bonnie Bellow, public affairs director for EPA Region II, said the restructuring is actually outside her agency's purview.
"As to the specifics of the restructuring, that is really a V.I. government matter and a V.I. government decision," said Bellow. Nevertheless, she added, "My understanding is that it was a very productive meeting as the governor has stated."
The territory has for years been under orders, either from the federal courts or the EPA, to bring its waste management into compliance with federal standards. Currently, according to V.I. EPA Coordinator Jim Casey, the territory has yet to fully comply with orders regarding its landfills on St. Thomas and St. Croix, as well as disposal of used automotive oil, scrap metal and tires.
VIWMA's attempt to bring the territory into compliance suffered a blow when the Public Services Commission in November shot down years' worth of work by denying a plan to implement an environmental user fee on products entering the territory. Public outcry over the fee, which was the brainchild of the Legislature, was fierce.
Despite spending approximately $1 million on consultants to help construct the plan, VIWMA was unable to satisfy commissioners’ questions about how the user fee would be implemented, among other concerns.
The user fee would have levied a sliding scale of fees on every item brought into the territory, and the proceeds would have been used to fund the VIWMA. In December, the Legislature repealed the environmental user fee law, sending VIWMA back to the drawing board.
The authority was established in January 2004 by an act of the Legislature which made it an autonomous government corporation, independent of the territory’s government, and similar in structure to the V.I. Water and Power Authority. By placing the authority under the auspices of the central government, deJongh regains control.
Editor’s note: The Source initially reported the new agency would be under Public Works. We have since clarified it would be under the central government and changed the story to reflect the correct information.
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