Oct. 9, 2002 – Area residents are fed up with sharing their air with the Bovoni landfill, and it's time to move the island's waste disposal somewhere else, several witnesses said on Wednesday at a meeting of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee.
"We stood back too long, and we're not going to take it," Terecita Rivera, president of the Bovoni Homeowners Association, said.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan urged the residents to file a class-action suit against the government if they want to see changes made.
When the landfill was built 28 years ago, Rivera said, neighborhood residents were assured it would be used for only two years. Since then, she said, people living in the area have developed myriad health problems. "I'd like to know how much longer the dump will be there?" she asked, coughing into her handkerchief.
It was a question with no easy answer. Hollis Griffin, who heads the Environmental Enforcement Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department, said every alternative proposed for handling the garbage that makes it to the front burner gets shot down.
Roan Creque, Public Works deputy director of operations, said a plan formulated a decade ago to convert the garbage to energy depended on transferring St. John's garbage to Bovoni because St. Thomas did not generate enough to make the project financially viable. St. John's waste is still trucked to Bovoni, but the conversion program never materialized.
Creque also said that St. John's Susannaberg dump was shut down because it was fouling a major aquifer and because the site is adjacent to the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center. He didn't mention a major underground fire that caused problems for several years. And, Creque said, he pushed 22 years ago for system that sorted garbage and utilized recycling, which also never materialized.
While Creque said he was speaking as a Public Works official, a letter to the committee chair, Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, from Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood indicated otherwise. Callwood, his technical assistant Sonia Nelthropp, and Creque were the Public Works officials invited to testify at the hearing. In the letter, Callwood wrote that he and Nelthropp had a previous commitment and that Creque could speak only as a private citizen.
"I will speak when I desire to speak, and I will not be stopped," Creque countered.
Nadir residents, too, complained of problems dealing with the government. Janet Hansby noted that Public Works planned to tear up the major street in her housing area to install a sewer line but didn't tell residents until days before the work was scheduled to start. (See "Controversial sewer work delayed a month".) The project, which was to get under way in early October, is on hold for a month.
"We're always the last to hear about it," another Nadir resident, William Malone, added. He called the Public Works sewer line plan "inadequate and, frankly, asinine."
Creque told the Nadir representatives it would cost them less to hook up to sewer service if the line goes down their street, rather than along the main road.
Hansby, displaying a bottle of dirty water she said came from her twice-a-day floor mopping, also said that residents suffer from dust spewed by a nearby concrete plant and from sewage smells that come from the nearby gut.
A number of Bovoni and Nadir residents complained about old tires piled up at the Bovoni landfill. Creque said the tires are being moved away from an area near a smoldering underground methane fire. He said Public Work is seeking to have the landfill operator, A-9 Construction, to shred the tires.
Rivera expressed concern that standing water in the tires could breed mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus. "Is the government waiting for a plague to break out?" she asked.
Saying that Planning and Natural Resources monitors the Bovoni landfill on compliance issues, Griffin read a laundry list of problems found at the site. Among them: lack of mechanisms for monitoring methane gas, preventing expansion of the landfill into the adjacent mangroves, monitoring groundwater, and preventing sewage, sludge, liquids and hazardous waste from being discharged at the landfill.
Other problems included no clearly marked areas for different types of waste, no attendant on site to direct people bringing in garbage, and no source of water to fight fires.
Creque said Public Works is planning to hire three people to direct deliveries to the proper areas of the landfill and four enforcement officers to ticket drivers of uncovered or overloaded trucks, as well as people who litter. He said this will be done once Public Works received money appropriated by the Legislature for those purposes.
Griffin also said a project to clean up contaminated soil near oil igloos has not been completed; wind-blown dust, paper and other debris remain uncontrolled; there do not appear to be regular cleanups of this debris, animals roam the site; and the operator has incomplete or nonexistent records.
Committee members present in addition to Bryan and Cole were Sens. Roosevelt David and Carlton Dowe. Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel also attended. Committee members not present were Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Alicia "Chuckie" Hansen and Celestino A. White Sr.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.