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WMA Unveils Plan to Put Out Landfill Fire

July 31, 2008 — More than 60 St. Croix residents packed the V.I. Waste Management Authority's conference room in Williams Delight Wednesday to hear about plans to put out the long-burning underground fire at the island's Anguilla landfill.
As in a number of stateside landfills, fires have burned sporadically underground for years at Anguilla. But a federal mandate to close the landfill, coupled with the fire worsening, has made extinguishing it a priority.
"A series of smaller fires connected over the south and southwest slopes of the Anguilla landfill," Cornwall said at a WMA meeting in April, "creating a situation of imminent failure and danger to the operating contractor and Waste Management staff, the Henry E. Rohlsen airport operations and the surrounding community.
"As these fires burn, the surface can cave in and people and equipment can fall into the fire."
The Anguilla landfill is scheduled to close Dec. 31. Although no waste can be accepted after that date, federal law and a mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency require capping of the landfill, monitoring for environmental contamination, testing for levels of methane and other gases produced by buried garbage, and installation of a gas-collection system. The fire must be extinguished before these can be done. Plans to put out the fire were delayed a month, but are on track for mid-August. (See "Anguilla Landfill Will Close After Fire Extinguished.")
This sort of fire suppression is highly specialized and can be dangerous without the proper expertise. Williams Fire and Hazard Control, a Texas-based industrial firefighting company, has been contracted, and the job is budgeted at $3.9 million. In April, the V.I. Public Finance Authority authorized the release of capital bond funds for the job.
May Adams Cornwall, WMA's executive director, outlined the broad timeline of the work and some of the safety and environmental precautions being taken. Chauncey Naylor from Williams Fire and Hazard then went into more detail about the actual fire suppression methods, showing a film of his company working on a similar landfill fire elsewhere.
Naylor emphasized his company's experience and safety record.
"It is our people who are up front and close to the fire and we are responsible for them," Naylor said. "We have been in business for 27 years and have lost zero hours due to an accident, which is pretty unusual. To date we have never had anyone injured on one of our jobs or walked away from a job that was unsuccessful."
Austin Moorhead, contracted as safety supervisor for the project, said groundwater and air will be tested around the landfill both during and after the fire suppression.
"What about those of us with cisterns?" asked Marcellino Ventura Sr. of Estate Whim. "Is there going to be any testing to see if we have been contaminated by material falling out of the air?"
Moorhead and Naylor said there should be little likelihood of any problem.
"Our mission is, we come in with a team of experienced people and you won't even know we are here until we are gone," Naylor said.
"But if there is any severe action, we will ask residents to disconnect their downspouts for the duration," Moorhead said.
Diane Capehart of St. Croix asked what happens to the fire suppression work in the event of a hurricane.
"We cover everything back over and evacuate our non-essential personnel for the duration," Naylor said.
"How many people are you bringing in and is there to be any local component or training of local fire professionals?" Sen. Carmen Wesselhoft of St. John asked.
Williams Fire and Hazard will bring in a crew of 10, Chauncey Naylor said.
"We have asked local fire professionals to attend," Naylor said. "Not to train per se but to experience the process for the future. We've done this before and it has been well worth it for both local fire units and us."
Several individuals asked when the project would start and when it would be complete. Cornwall said the project should begin in mid-August, but the starting date was not firm yet. After it starts, the work should take up to two months, Naylor said.
"We don't know for certain until we start uncovering the fire," he said. "But based on experience and the amount of earth being moved, about 45 to 60 days."
There is an information hotline for questions and to report problems with the fire suppression project: 712-4995. More information is also available at viwma.org
, where users are invited to click on the "report a problem" link to ask questions or make a report.
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