The Cotton Valley waste bins are in a remote area of St. Croix on the east end and that may be reason they are abused. Construction and landscaping debris and other non-household garbage is dumped there and sometimes the residential garbage is just thrown around the dumpsters.
This was just one of many complaints Adrian Wade Taylor, interim executive director of the Waste Management Authority, fielded from senators after his testimony to the Government Operations, Consumer and Veteran Affairs Friday.
Sen. Novelle Francis wanted to know what the authority was doing about garbage piling up on St. John and overflowing manholes in Christiansted.
Sen. Steven Payne said bin sites on St. Thomas were being so overrun by rats, the rats were going into houses in the neighborhood.
A fence is going to built around part of the Cotton Valley site and a person hired to monitor the site. According to Taylor, three WMA trucks will roll on St. John to pick up garbage that had once been picked up by contractors. He said the problem of overflowing of sewers in Christiansted was aggravated by fat oil and grease introduced into the sewer system by residents and restaurants with inadequately sized and/or inoperable grease traps. Grease in the collection system hardens when it cools and constricts the diameter of the sewer lines.
WMA’s problems, Taylor said, stem from lack of funds.
“The financial condition of the authority continues to deteriorate and requires immediate attention and relief to address unfunded landfill closure costs, continued shortfall of the sewer wastewater fund and other key programs. The authority is aware of the financial and economic limitations on the government of the Virgin Islands. However, given the importance of the services that the authority provides, it is imperative that the authority is allocated the funds,” Taylor said.
Sen. Alicia Barnes indicated it might be a structural problem. WMA was once a department in Public Works and many think it should have stayed there.
“Maybe we should revisit this model. It is not working,” Barnes said, questioning the need for another bureaucracy and administrative staff.
During the hearing Sen. Oakland Benta defended WMA.
“The black eye you are receiving is unfair,” Benta said.
According to Benta, the central government owed WMA $28 million and, in not paying, it is responsible for the mess.
Taylor said the authority anticipates a budget shortfall of $44 million this year
When questioned about collections from tipping fees that haulers were to start paying at landfills, Taylor said it did not make sense to try to collect money from people you owe money. WMA owes approximately $6 million to haulers.
When asked about the collection of wastewater fees, Chief Financial Officer Heather Daley had more news. She said the fees went into effect in 2005 and until 2013, $3 million was appropriated for WMA instead of $1.5 million, and WMA is still paying back that over appropriation.
Taylor translated what he thought the lack of funding for the WMA could mean to the residents.
“Collectively, our failure to dispose of collected solid waste and treated waste water can and will create a public health hazard,” he said.
Sen. Athneil Thomas placed some of the blame for the problems on residents.
“We have to change our mindset on what to do with waste,” he said, citing the EPA slogan – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Taylor said the authority depends on the the general public to put trash in its proper place and call the authority’s hotline (844-962-8784) to report illegal dumping.
Taylor said the authority continues to look for ways to make recycling happen. He called the trash hauled from St. John “the most expensive garbage in the world.” He said getting trash from St. John has cost the authority half a million dollars a month but a plan is in the works that could bring those costs down to $100,000 a month.
When asked about used tires, Taylor said the authority had more than 300,000 stored in the territory. He said the authority had looked into ways to recycle them but found no way to be feasible.
The authority continues its plan to eliminate all public unmanned bin sites throughout the territory, according to Taylor.
The authority’s governing board is short three members, making it impossible to achieve a quorum. Similarly, the authority is critically understaffed, according to Taylor, there are 33 funded vacancies. The openings are reportedly difficult to fill because of noncompetitive salaries.