Environmental Protection Agency officials from New York and Puerto Rico visited the U.S. Virgin Islands last week and met with local officials and members of the media at the FEMA office to confirm the agency’s support in protecting the territory’s public water, landfills and air quality.
“My purpose in being here in person is to reinforce the work we’re doing on a daily basis to support the territory in advancing home rule, advancing their ability to protect public health for their citizens, bringing our resources as supports to bear so that the U.S. Virgin Islands remains healthy and productive and able to manage its quality of life,” said Peter Lopez, regional administrator, based in New York.
With Lopez were Carmen Perez, director of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division; Jose Font, deputy director; Slawomir Kopec, senior advisor to Lopez; and later, Jim Gacy, the territory’s EPA representative.
Lopez talked about helping the territory with funding, technology and personnel, although funding resources are scarce, he added.
Asked how the EPA will support the V.I. Waste Management Agency towards compliance with federal consent decrees, he said WMA was notified this week it is scheduled to receive $28 million – $26 million for infrastructure. There will also be “mission driven” technology support and EPA will team with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and FEMA.
Perez talked about the planned closures of the St. Thomas and St. Croix landfills within the next two years. She said there will be public meetings in July to give residents a chance to comment on and learn about the plans for the landfills. Lopez added that Congress approved $10 million to support the transitions that start with getting approval for new locations, etc.
After also meeting with the new administration on Thursday, Lopez said he saw “a lot of energy and collaboration” between the governor and cabinet members. The storms of 2017 have “amplified” the territory’s ongoing challenges, Lopez added.
“We have a lot of concerns. One of the chief concerns is helping the territory manage solid waste. We want to make sure your landfills are properly designed so we don’t have seepage into the ground water,” he said, adding that waste reduction, recycling and composting are options to be investigated.
The territory’s drinking water is monitored by DPNR and the Water and Power Authority monitors the water it provides to conform with EPA standards. Perez said testing, licensing and reporting to the EPA is handled by the V.I. government. If the reporting is not what it should be or there is a citizen complaint, the EPA will step in and perform its own tests. The EPA doesn’t micromanage the governments.
Other subjects discussed by the EPA officials were mulch, abandoned autos and tires left behind on the islands after the initial hurricane cleanup. Lopez said the EPA backed up the territory’s plan for removing debris and creating mulch – they packed up contaminants and shipped them off island with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Locations and times for the WMA and DPNR public hearings will be announced soon. The dates are:
St. Thomas – July 22
St. Croix – July23
St. John – July 25.