Mario Leonard, the V.I. Waste Management Authority’s director of solid waste for St. Thomas-St. John, assured residents of St. John on Wednesday that VIWMA is moving rapidly to find a company to remove old tires from the island’s transfer station that could breed Zika-carrying mosquitos.
There are approximately 20,000 tires at Susannaberg Transfer Station that need to be disposed of.
“We just prepared a request for proposal to get some bids to bale the tires and then ship them all out of the territory,” Leonard told residents of St. John at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening at which officials from both the VIWMA and the V.I. Department of Health answered questions.
The meeting, which took place at the Cruz Bay Legislature Building, was called by St. John Administrator Camille Paris Jr.
When pressed by attendees of the meeting concerned about the appearance of the Zika virus in the territory, Leonard said the process of dealing with the tires was being “expedited” due to the arrival of the disease. Residents can expect movement on the process within a month, he said.
The VIWMA has struggled with the issue of tire disposal for years and on all three islands. Tires are not accepted at the territory’s landfills, but that doesn’t stop some residents from dumping them illegally in
dumpster bins or off roadsides at which point they become the problem of VIWMA.
In addition to increasing the risk of landfill fires, tires collect stagnant water that can become a health hazard. In previous years an outbreak of dengue fever has been the scenario of most concern related to accumulating tires.
Zika cases in the USVI have not yet reached the levels of past dengue outbreaks in the territory, but it is of chief concern to local government due to a possible link to birth defects such as microcephaly. At the end of March, 12 cases of Zika had been confirmed in the territory, according to a weekly update from the Department of Health.
Leonard said residents can rest assured that VIWMA is spraying the accumulated tires at its facilities, including the Susannaberg Transfer Station, with pesticides on a monthly basis with the help of pest control company Orkin. This is a stipulation of the federal consent decree the authority operates under.
The spray is only a temporary fix. The authority has been mandated by the consent decree to remove tens of thousands of tires from its landfills.
One resident who attended Wednesday’s meeting suggested tires be recycled and used in the paving of roads as other jurisdictions have done.
Leonard said VIWMA would be open to that idea but no private company has proposed a plan.
"It’s not that we’re not looking into it. We’ve been looking into it for years,” said Leonard. “We are not an asphalt company. They would be the ones to do the analysis on that and determine if it’s something they want to invest in.”
The V.I. Waste Management Authority announced at the meeting that the Environmental Protection Agency is looking to fund the purchase of a new tire shredder for the territory in the near future.
The VIWMA is gradually moving towards a fee-based home collection system that will be supplemented by trash and recycling drop-off facilities called convenience centers. That means the closure of the territory’s landfills and the removal of all open dumpster bins.
Leonard said under the new system, VIWMA’s plans include the construction of two convenience centers on St. John: one in Coral Bay and one near or in Cruz Bay. The convenience centers would be similar to the one opened in Peter’s Rest on St. Croix in 2013 and the one soon to open in Mandahl on St. Thomas. Land and funding for St. John’s facilities have yet been identified.