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Landfill Fire Dominates Bovoni Meeting with Officials

May 19, 2008 — The April landfill fire wasn't the only hot topic as nearly 50 Bovoni residents shared their frustrations with a number of government officials at a four-hour community meeting Sunday night.
Response to the recent dump fire dominated the meeting organized by the Bovoni Homeowner's Association, in cooperation with the office of St. Thomas-Water Island Administrator Barbara Petersen.
Association president Terecita Rivera said, "Bovoni is being treated like a second-class citizen. Why? I do not know. Bovoni is just getting what no one else wants. We pay taxes like any other person."
Speakers from among the 50 residents talked about public and environmental safety concerns with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Fire Service and Police Departments, and the Waste Management Authority officials
Conspicuously absent was the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Many of the resident's zoning-related questions and concerns went unanswered for want of an expert from that agency.
"They [DPNR] were expected to be here and I will find out why they weren't," Petersen said.
DPNR director Robert Mathes and Petersen are invited speakers at Monday's public hearing on the environmental degradation of the Bovoni neighborhood at Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas.
Daryl George, special assistant to the director of the Fire Service, said this was the fourth time the government team had attended meetings in Bovoni.
"This was biggest crowd. They asked a lot of questions, and they were good questions," George said.
George publicly apologized to Josette Hedrington, director of the Virgin Islands Baptist Mission academy, for overlooking her school when the dump fire caused other schools evacuations.
"I take full responsibility," said George, who explained that the wind direction led him and other first responders to decide that the school was not in imminent danger from the fire or its heavy smoke.
He also listened to several residents' complaints about the proximity of fuel tankers stored in a lot adjacent to their homes.
George said he had not been aware of the problem, but promised to look into it. George said that even though the property might be zoned for that use, his department could still approach the landholder about securing the perimeter.
Steve Aubin, VIWMA chief of operations officer, sought to dispel rumors that St. Croix's trash was being shipped to Bovoni. He said the St. Croix landfill is scheduled to close in December 2009, and other options were being considered for the garbage.
He said that radical changes could be soon be expected in the way the Virgin Islands processed its refuse and that residents could expect a bigger emphasis on recycling and renewable resources in the future.
Several residents raised concerns about the proximity of fuel storage tankers to the dump and to the gas stations in the town. (See "Meetings Planned to Address Bovoni Health and Safety Concerns.")
These residents indicated that the owners of the tankers had discovered that local residents had complained about the tankers to the DPNR and were awarded permits subsequent to citizens' complaints but before results of an investigation.
"It is apparent that this [permitting] is being done without consulting the people in the community. [The tank owners] got permits to cover something that was illegal. How can you get approval for something that is illegal without the permit?" asked resident Clarence Payne.
Residents also complained to Police Chief Rodney Querrard and Lt. Joseph Gumbs, commander of Zone C, that the police were not responding quickly enough or often enough to calls of gunshots.
Resident Felix Berruz said that he had heard machine-gun fire on New Years and said that when he reported the gunshots, the dispatcher's response was unsatisfactory.
"I called it in and the lady said that they'd see if they could send someone out," Berruz said.
Querrard responded that it is critical that citizens call police and describe the shooter and their location.
"The buck stops here," said Gumbs of the local police station. He gave out numbers for the Zone C station for Bovoni citizens to call.
Querrard added that if citizens did not get satisfaction calling Gumbs' station, they should call him.
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