Oct. 16, 2003 – At the start on Thursday of the third and what he anticipated would be the final meeting of his Planning and Environmental Protection Committee on the proposed V.I. Waste Management Authority, Sen. Louis Hill expressed the hope that the legislation would be approved and sent on to the Rules Committee.
At the end of the day, Hill was talking about a series of town meetings to get more public input on the whole idea of the authority. "I get a sense that we have the need for more public involvement," he said.
As for the legislation, Hill said his committee would work on creating a "more perfect document comprising clear solutions and transparency to the public," addressing many of the issues that came up at the Thursday meeting and earlier ones held on St. Croix and St. John.
Not the least of those issues was the question of whether there is a need for a waste management authority at all. Sens. Usie Richards and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg both questioned the wisdom of another agency which could wind up simply "creating another layer of bureaucracy."
But Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood said the authority is "an idea whose time has come. It can't be put off any longer." He added: "I am faced with court orders for solid waste, and now for the first time, I am faced with court orders for fixing roads. The creation of this authority will address the needs of the community more efficiently."
The government now faces one wastewater consent decree, an order from District Judge Thomas Moore that has multiple additions, and which Sonya Nelthropp, Public Works senior manager for federal compliance, calls a Memorandum of Understanding.
There are also four U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consent orders, for compliance at the Bovoni landfill, the proper management of waste oil, wetlands mitigation at the Bovoni landfill, and compliance at Anguilla landfill.
The authority would be an independent instrumentality managing all public facilities for the collection, treatment and disposal of wastewater and solid waste in the territory. The legislation creating it also would authorize the agency to establish an "environmental impact user fee."
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has tried repeatedly throughout his two terms to get the Senate to approve the creation of such an authority.
The current bill calls for funding for the authority to come largely from user fee revenues, bonds authorized by the legislation, and federal sources. The agency also would receive $8 million in startup funds from the Fiscal Year 2004 budget — a matter hotly debated by several senators on Thursday.
Authority's board makeup an issue
Who would make up authority's the board of directors also came in for much comment. Jason Budsan, representing the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands, said the organization supports an authority in principle but has a number of concerns about the legislation.
The league recommends that board's executive branch members should comprise a cabinet member and either a Planning and Natural Resources Department employee or a University of the Virgin Islands biologist. It also recommends someone with an environmental engineering background for one of the non-government seats.
The league also expressed concern about the funding of the authority through bond issuance. "Whether the bond principal is $4.5 million or $450 million, the taxpayers will shoulder the burden, and it should not be done without prior public input," Budsan said. The league suggested a volunteer citizens committee to advise the board on matters involving bond issuance.
Testimony and discussion also focused on problems with the Bovoni landfill.
Patricia Penn, a member of the Bovoni Homeowners Association board, said that while most people have ordinary house dust, "in Bovoni, we have large visible dirt particles that settle on everything. Reports of red, itchy eyes, bone disease, asthma and other respiratory ailments and skin conditions are frequent. When medical care is sought, no explanation is given as to the cause of these symptoms."
Penn added that "there are residents who will not drink water from their cisterns, but instead incur much expense to purchase drinking water." She said the area is "a disaster waiting to happen" and asked Nelthropp how long it would be until the Bovoni Landfill is closed.
The landfill still has several years of use, Nelthropp said.
Junk cars supposed to be gone by December
Dowe quizzed Nelthropp about when the derelict cars being towed on St. Thomas and St. John that are being taken to the dump will be removed. "When are those stacks of cars going to be removed?" he asked. "I mean, when is the barge supposed to come and take them away?"
Nelthropp said removal should come before December. She said she would have to ask the contractor doing the work for more specific information.
Dowe asked Nelthropp where the $8 million for startup costs appears in the FY 2004 budget. She said it's in the miscellaneous section, and added that an "extra $5 million" would probably be required to complete the setup.
Enrique Rodriguez, president of Rodriguez Auto Parts, expressed his frustration over a tire disposal system which was supposed to have been in place early in 2001 but has yet to get started.
Callwood announced in 2000 that old tires could no longer be taken to the Bovoni landfill. Public Works hired Lester Ashby of A-9 Trucking to dispose of the tires with a shredder, which Ashby purchased and which was to operate at the landfill. The shredder was supposed to reduce the volume of tire waste by about 90 percent.
Rodriguez said he supports the idea of user fees but would like to know what is happening with the shredder. "It's been one obstacle after another getting the shredding machine operating," he said. "I would love for it to be resolved. There are tires out there filling with water and breeding mosquitoes."
User fee would be based on imports
Nelthropp explained the proposed user fee several times during the day, in response to repeated questions. She made clear that it would be an "import fee," not a "tipping fee." She said if it were a tipping fee, people would stop taking things to the dump.
According to an overview from Hill's office of the proposed waste management system, the "environmental use fee" would be imposed on goods as they are imported into the territory. Except for personal luggage, all goods entering the territory would have to be accompanied by a manifest lists the types and amounts of goods.
Management of the territory's solid waste and wastewater by the authority is projected to cost about $43 million annually. Revenues to cover this cost would come from several sources, according to the overview.
It said that some $15 million could come from the rum tax and another $2.5 million from wastewater fees, leaving a shortfall of $25.5 million which could be covered by household fees and tipping fees, or by other means.
But Nelthropp emphasized that no tipping fee would be instituted initially. The disposition of the fee and how it would apply to different companies and goods have been challenged by Hovensa. See "Concerns raised about waste authority bill".)
Sen. Ronald Russell brought up the Anguilla landfill on St. Croix, asking when it would be closed. Callwood said it will take "about eight years and cost $10 million."
Dowe referred to the announcement this week of plans for charter flights to bring Danish visitors to St. Croix every two weeks starting next April. "We are here talking about things booming on St. Croix, and we continue to wrangle over the closure of the Anguilla landfill," he said.
Also heard from was the Anti-Litter a
nd Beautification Commission which would, in effect, be put out of business by the authority, which would assume its duties. "The authority will have a board and executive director, which will make the commission obsolete," Edwin Davis, commission chair, said. However, he said, that's fine with him, "as long as the present programs of ALBC remain in effect, and we see an enhancement in the cleanliness and beauty of these islands."
Hill praised Davis for his attitude. "In a society where egos are huge, the ability to give up power is appreciated," he said.
Concern about creating more bureaucracy
Donastorg told his colleagues that he has "serious reservations with this legislation," in terms of both structure and outlook. He asked them to bear in mind that the Public Works Department for years has been responsible for waste management. "If they can't manage waste because of economic shortfalls, you will have the same individuals involved working to create another authority to deal with the same problems," he said.
"It's an admission in a way that the problem was not being addressed, so we're going to try something else," he said. "If we are not careful, we may create another level of bureaucracy without realizing it."
Richards asked Nelthropp for evidence in writing that federal officials have endorsed the idea of a waste authority. She said she would have to look for a document.
Richards also was sharply critical of the creation of the authority. "It's rewarding incompetence," he said. "We have all these authorities. Everyone wants an authority. Soon we're going to need an authority to run Government House. People are just afraid to do their jobs."
He asked whether an analysis had been done of why the authority is needed. And then he asked Callwood to prepare one.
Hill, in concluding the hearing, said Callwood's analysis would be among various documents, including a strengthened recycling resource plan, that the committee would study before presenting a "more perfect document."
"There have been many sectors of our community who have endorsed this legislation," he said. "However, there needs to be more public participation."
Nelthropp promised the new system would be efficient. "The current system is a juggernaut," she said. "The authority has to go forward to protect the health and safety of the community."
Committee members present were Sens. Roosevelt David, Donastorg, Dowe, Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone and Russell. Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd was excused. Also present was Sen. Usie Richards, who is not a committee member.
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