Robert Moorehead, Public Works assistant commissioner, said the government did not want to create a health hazard by allowing garbage to build up in residential communities or at roadside collection bins. So, he said, Public Works designated an alternate dropoff point at the landfill for the disposal of municipal waste.
The only portion of the landfill that remained closed on Wednesday was the section where metals and tires are stockpiled. "In my estimate, I have seen a 98 percent reduction," Moorehead said of the area where combustion continued. "There still are very small spots under controlled burning."
On Tuesday, Public works had reported 90 percent containment of the blaze that broke out on Monday, sending flames into the sky and black clouds of soot as far away as Sandy Point. "We will divide up the areas" where burning continues, Moorehead said, "and we are putting about 15 inches of dirt on it."
He said commercial haulers transporting roll-off/roll-on bins are being allowed into the site on a selected schedule. The contracted haulers are Bates Trucking, Dan's Trucking and Paradise Waste Systems.
Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood announced on Wednesday that the fire was started as at least one individual was removing parts from a scrap vehicle. "Someone was let in to take parts off of scrap metal with a torch, and the fire was started that way," he said.
Callwood applauded the efforts of the landfill maintenance contractor, Dwayne Fergus of Fergutrax. "He is doing a very good job," the commissioner said.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron said in a radio interview on Wednesday that he supports Callwood's call for prosecuting those responsible for the fire. "There has to be a collaborative effort between police and Public Works in apprehending the persons involved," he said.
Callwood had said on Tuesday in a release that not only those scavenging but those who allowed them onto the landfill property should be held responsible. Stridiron said the offenders could be charged with arson, larceny, destruction of government property and/or trespassing. The charge of arson carries a sentence of five to 10 years in prison, he said.
"It is not something that should be taken lightly, he said. "The ramifications are vast. We take it very seriously."
Callwood and Gordon Finch, Port Authority executive director, returned to the territory on Tuesday from Orlando, Florida, where they had been meeting with Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Aviation Administration officials concerning the landfill when the fire erupted. The V.I. government has been under federal orders for nearly two years to close the Anguilla site by Dec. 31 for environmental reasons.
Questions about interim bale-and-wrap plan
The Property and Procurement Department recently awarded a contract to a Puerto Rico firm, Landfill Technologies Corp., to provide interim disposal of St. Croix's solid waste over the next few years until a new full-scale waste-processing system can be put in place. Landfill Technologies has been contracted to wrap, bale and store the refuse.
Finch said that neither the EPA nor the FAA opposes the bale-and-wrap method, but both have a few concerns. He said officials of the agencies cited the need for a guarantee that haulers will not continue to take trash to the landfill if the bailing is not in operation by Dec. 31.
Landfill Technologies has proposed filling in the current dump site with soil and storing the bails on top of the new landfill. According to Finch, company officials have said they can provide a mobile unit if the site initially is not ready. Finch said he opposes that plan. "We already have a garbage hill there, and I'm not going to approve a garbage mountain," he said.
With the deadline less than six months away, Finch said he is not optimistic that the government will meet the deadline for an interim waste storage site. "I don't see how that can be designed and ready by the end of the year," he said
As flames died down at Anguilla, EPA technicians flew in from Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland to test and monitor emissions at the landfill.
Jim Casey, V.I. coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said on Wednesday that his agency's work at the site in the aftermath of the fire has just begun. In a telephone interview, Casey said an on-site coordinator arrived at the site on Tuesday and had been observing the ongoing firefighting efforts. The EPA received an official request from the local government to monitor and test the air quality in the vicinity of the landfill, he said.
But Casey said that the Health and the Planning and Natural Resources Departments are responsible for monitoring the public-health aspects of the landfill. "It is a state function, not EPA's," he said. "In the past, we have made provisions upon an official request."
Casey also said that an emergency response team was expected to arrive on St. Croix from Puerto Rico and New Jersey. He said contractors will fly in equipment that will be used to take samples "from different sensitive receptors of immediate impact" at areas including Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack and neighboring residential areas including Enfield Green and William's Delight west of the landfill and the Harvey Housing Community to the northeast. "We want to know the level of emissions and exposure," he said.
Underground fires are ongoing
While local officials have identified surface combustion as the cause of Monday's fire, Casey noted, the landfill also is plagued by burning taking place beneath the surface. "The fact is, there is an underground combustion going on," he said. "It is a methane fire. The possibility has been known for quite some time."
On June 12, Casey said, a federal reconnaissance team visiting the landfill actually saw "breathing features" — air pockets — smoking. "That has happened in the past and will continue," he said. "As of now, it is still smoldering and will literally burn itself out."
According to an EPA report, landfill gas as a flammable or explosive vapor that can have a temperature of anywhere from 60 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. It may not have an identifiable odor because of being filtered through soil and other materials. Methane gas alone is both odorless and colorless. Refuse placed in a landfill creates layers of biodegradable materials, the report said, and moisture and air from the open pockets which promote decomposition of waste also generate gas.
Casey said that another environmental safety project that is to begin this week at the landfill is the cleanup of cylinders containing chlorine.
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