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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 13, 2024


The general consensus from testifiers at an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency public hearing Thursday night was that the V.I. government should get one more chance to retain regulatory oversight of the territory’s landfills.
The hearing was the second of two, the other held Tuesday on St. Thomas, in which the EPA recorded comments on its preliminary decision to disapprove the territory’s landfill program and assume a greater role in enforcing federal solid waste laws in the islands.
The agency is taking the approach because over the last seven years the V.I. government has not adopted necessary solid waste regulations or allocated enough funding and staff to deal with solid waste issues. Once the hearings have been held and EPA officials have considered comments from the public, a decision will be made on whether to formally disapprove the territory’s program and assume a greater role in the enforcement of landfill regulations.
At the hearing Wednesday, where EPA officials only listened, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, who heads the local agency charged with regulating the landfills, said the long-awaited rules and regulations were signed by Gov. Charles Turnbull Tuesday night, that a landfill inspector had been hired and that funding was available to keep that person on the job well into the future.
Plaskett noted that DPNR has been regulating the Department of Public Works, the operator of the territory’s landfills, but that department doesn’t have the funding to make the needed fixes to its many problems. He said the most recent notice of violation against Public Works was issued by DPNR.
Plaskett also noted that if EPA was to take over regulatory control, all fine proceeds and permit fees would go into the U.S. Treasury, not local coffers.
"If EPA were to regulate the landfill, what’s to say Public Works will be in compliance," Plaskett asked. "EPA will bring a bigger stick. They’re not bringing in any carrots.
"We are of the position that the enforcement authority should lie with the territory."
Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson agreed, saying that the problems with solid waste management would be addressed with the creation of a proposed self-funded waste management authority. A waste authority would allow for a more focused operations and be "more responsive to the regulators," he said.
Thompson noted that if the territory’s regulatory rules were found to be inadequate, it couldn’t site and build a new solid waste handling facility.
"If we do not have the (regulatory) authority locally, the V.I. government would be precluded" from opening another landfill, Thompson said.
The only surprise of the evening came from Gordon Finch, executive director of the V.I. Port Authority, which owns the land the Anguilla Landfill is located. The Port Authority has been ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration to close the landfill by December 2002 because scavenging birds pose a threat to aircraft using the nearby airport.
Finch noted that a draft consent order was issued by the EPA in May to the Port Authority and Public Works to make several improvements at the Anguilla Landfill. But because of the time frame within the order and Public Works’ lack of funding, corrective action would be difficult to achieve. The result, he said, would be "big fines."
He said that if the EPA does find local regulatory rules inadequate, the draft consent order would become final and the resulting fines would suck "the very resources out of this territory required to solve" the problems.
"Don’t come and use your big stick by saying your plan is inadequate," Finch said. "It’s not going to serve any good purpose."
Finch expressed his dismay that the Port Authority, Public Works, the FAA and the EPA were all aware of the 2002 closure date for the St. Croix landfill but that the EPA was still intent on pressing the territory.
"Why are you going to come give us a big beating when you know the landfill is going to be closed," asked Finch. "Come hell or high water the Anguilla Landfill is going to be closed in December 2002."
Although Jim Casey, the EPA’s V.I. coordinator, said official responses to testimony will be made later this year, he did comment on Plaskett and Finch’s statements.
As for DPNR’s just-signed rules and regulations, he said nobody at EPA has "seen a single document to that effect."
"By the way, the governor just signed them last (Tuesday) night," he said, noting there is a set protocol for submitting such documentation.
Casey said the Port Authority was named in the draft consent order issued in May because it owns the Anguilla Landfill property. He said EPA is "definitely" aware of the 2002 closure date, but that the order is aimed at curbing immediate problems at the landfill, such as fires and other daily operating shortfalls.
He said that for the past 10 years individuals and non-governmental organizations have been requesting EPA to do something about the territory’s landfills. Those requests and the lack of action on the government’s part in drafting acceptable regulatory guidelines has placed the EPA in its current position.
"The EPA is not desirous of running or regulating solid waste programs," Casey said. "EPA has to bring to closure a task started in 1993 that didn’t foresee a plan established between the Port Authority, Public Works and the FAA."

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