Sept. 20, 2001 — More light was shed Wednesday on the proposed $180 million facility being touted as the panacea to the territorys solid waste woes.
Mark Augenblick, chairman and CEO of Caribe Waste Technologies, the company leading a group of firms proposing to finance, build, own and operate a waste-to-energy gasification plant, told members of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce that the project cannot move ahead without the backing of the Water and Power Authority.
WAPAs decision is expected to come at a board meeting Thursday. If the gasification plant does go forward, it will be the most costly project ever undertaken by the V.I. government. In real costs, the territory would be paying about $37 million a year for 30 years in order to dispose of its solid waste.
WAPA is a major part of the picture because it could reduce the governments costs by about $11 million to $12 million a year over the 30 years — by purchasing the water and power generated from the plant, Augenblick said. While the Turnbull administration is supporting CWTs proposal, it is not clear what the WAPA board will decide.
If WAPA were to sign a contract with CWT to purchase power and water - something the utilitys management has said it doesnt need — that would leave the government with payments of approximately $25 million a year. Augenblick said that cost would likely be covered by grants and subsidies from the federal government and by a solid waste "user fee" for homes and businesses. That fee could range from about $1 to $18 a month for residents to $100 a month for businesses, he said.
Augenblick said that after paying bond holders, the French company that would actually operate the facility and other miscellaneous costs, CWT is looking at $4 million a year in tax-free profit as part of the Economic Development Agency program.
"What is left over, if anything, goes to us," Augenblick said, adding that "at the end of the day, we are the final point of responsibility."
Just as staggering as the economics of the project are the environmental implications. Augenblick didn't bat an eye when he told chamber members Wednesday that any type of garbage other than nuclear waste can be disposed of in the proposed facility: tires, refrigerators, batteries, construction debris — anything.
Under CWTs proposal, garbage from St. John and St. Thomas would be barged to a single waste-to-energy plant on St. Croix. The facility could be built adjacent to the Gordon Finch Molasses Pier or on the St. Croix Alumina property, Augenblick said. The plant, he said, will allow the government to close the Bovoni and Anguilla landfills. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the territory to close the Anguilla facility by the end of 2002 because birds that feed off of it pose a danger to aircraft at the nearby Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
Obtaining required permits and constructing the plant will take at least 30 months, Augenblick said. He expressed the view that the FAA might extend its deadline if it knew the V.I. government had entered into a contract to construct an enclosed waste-disposal facility.
"This is 100 percent recyclable," Augenblick said. "Nothing gets dumped into a landfill. This is a waste-processing facility. There will be nothing dumped on St. Croix."
To dispose of waste, CWT is proposing to use a gasification process, a technology owned by a Swiss company called Thermoselect. Through a process explained on CWTs website, waste is compressed and then intensively heated by conduction. The resultant synthesis gases are cleaned and then used to drive high-efficiency, low-speed gas engines that produce electricity.
Currently there are three municipal waste gasification plants in operation, one each in Germany, Japan and Italy. Permits have been granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a facility in Arkansas.
Because the EPA has approved permits on the mainland and because German air-quality standards are more strict than those in the United States, Augenblick said, CWT is confident that the technology can pass muster anywhere in the world.
When told the gasification process sounds too good to be true, Augenblick said it is proven. "Buy into this project. It is real. It is what it is," he said. "It is not perfect. It is expensive. It is there."
Heavy lifting not enough without support
At the Chamber of Commerce function on Wednesday, former Sen. Holland Redfield told Augenblick that CWT must have the government's administrative branch by its side as it goes through the legislative approval process.
If WAPA decides to sign on, the project would then be subject to public hearings, and then the Legislature would have to approve the contract between CWT and the government. In the past, Redfield said, outside businesses such as Beal Aerospace and Southern Energy had the administrations tacit support, but when it came time to stand before the Legislature, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was nowhere to be seen, and the ventures ultimately failed.
The administration, Redfield told Augenblick, "is going to force you to do the heavy lifting," but the project "will not succeed unless they stand with you."
Augenblick said he has already encountered opposition to the proposal from some senators. He said some skeptics in the government view the company as one that is bent on raping the Virgin Islands.
"I do business from Chile to Shanghai," he said. "It is humbling to do business here." Still, he said, "I believe if we took a vote today, wed get the votes.
"Maybe I'm dreaming, and we'll be like all those other businesses here. We will see."