Oct. 14, 2004 For want of a shoe the horse was lost, and for want of political will, a tire shredder is about to be lost. The shredder could quickly make mincemeat of the mountains of tires which sit at the Bovoni Landfill accumulating water and breeding mosquitos.
The tires have been accumulating for years. They create a potentially deadly disease hazard, made especially acute since the September rains. West Nile Virus, which is spread by mosquitos, has been reported in Puerto Rico.
Bovoni landfill contractor Lester Ashby, owner of A-9 Trucking, bought the shredder more than three years ago to assist the government in eliminating the tire hazard. The machine would reduce the volume of tire waste by about 90 percent.
Since that time, Ashby has been burrowing through mountains of government bureaucracy almost as high as the 25-foot mountains of tires awaiting disposal.
"I'm tired," Ashby said Thursday morning, "tired of the headache." Ashby says the three years of dealing with the constant red tape in various government departments to do something which would benefit the community has worn him down.
"I'm on the verge of shipping the shredder back to the states," he said.
Enrique Rodriguez, general manager of Rodriquez Auto Parts and chairman of the V.I. Tire Dealers Association, is equally frustrated. "I am completely and utterly confused with the bureaucratic hurdles that A-9 Trucking has been confronted by," he said Wednesday.
It's a long story, though one which should have been short and sweet. Before politics stepped in. Wayne Callwood, Public Works commissioner, announced late in 2000 that whole tires could no longer be taken to the Bovoni Landfill, prompting Rodriguez to form the V.I. Tire Dealers Association.
In conjunction with Callwood, Public Works solid waste manager Sonya Nelthropp and Ashby, Rodriquez developed a temporary tire disposal plan for St. Thomas and St. John, using the shredder Ashby bought in 2001. (See "Shredder To Make Short Work Of Old Tires").
"The machine will reduce the volume of tire waste by about 90 percent, Rodriguez explained then. "You could almost hold the remains of a regular-size tire in your two hands." The association worked out a disposal fee schedule of $2.25 and up, depending on the size of the tire. Shipping the tires off-island isn't an option. Rodriquez said it would double the cost of tires.
Since that time, Ashby has been stonewalled at almost every juncture.
If it isn't the right permits, it's the lease; if it's not the lease, it's a survey.
Elston George, deputy commissioner of Property and Procurement for property and printing, told the Source in February that a site for the shredder had been selected at the landfill and it was being surveyed.
Ashby told George at that time that if the government was having a problem paying the surveyor, he would cover the cost, and Property and Procurement could deduct the amount from his monthly rent.
"Progress is being made," George said at the time, not replying on the issue of Ashby's offer to the Source. As for the startup date of shredding, he said, "I can't tell you when, but hopefully in the next two weeks."
In July, Sen. Louis Hill called a meeting of the Senate Planning and Environmental Committee to get to the heart of the problem.
"We can't move forward until we have the appropriate permits and the lease from Property and Procurement," Ashby told the committee.
Leonard Reed, assistant director of the division of Environmental Protection under the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, said DPNR issued two permits to Ashby in 2002, one for the assembling of the shredder and another to operate it.
"We responded in a timely manner," Reed said. "The Department of Planning and Natural Resources has not been the stumbling block."
Ashby said the shredder is still unassembled because they were unable to work out a lease agreement with Property and Procurement to set up the shredder at the Bovoni landfill. He said at the July meeting that he had reapplied for a permit to assemble the machine, but he is still waiting for the lease agreement to be worked out.
George attended the meeting. He said Ashby currently has the lease and just needs to execute it. But Ashby said then that the lease requires more permits to be obtained from DPNR's Coastal Zoning Management division. He said Property and Procurement should obtain the permits because he would have to go through public hearings as a private company to obtain them.
"I don't see why I should go through all that to do a service to this government," Ashby told the committee. "At this point in time, I'm tired of this. The piece of equipment has been sitting there for three years now."
And Thursday he was more tired. The permits have now been issued, he said. However, there is a catch. The government wants Ashby to install the shredder on the property he leases for the landfill. "We got the permit to operate the shredder about a month ago," he said. "They followed all the guidelines we submitted, but the permit says the shredder must be installed by my office. There's no room." Though the shredder, itself, is not very big, the storage space for tires and the product the shredder produces, takes room.
George has not returned several calls for comment this week.
Callwood said Thursday, "It's something going on that doesn't affect us directly. It's independent from DPW." He added, "The permit is from DPNR. They have to follow certain guidelines and procedures."
Gesturing at his crowded yard, on Thursday Ashby pointed out the location down the hill where he owns the building to house the shredder. He indicated how practical the location is for receiving the tires and dispensing their product. However, though he owns the building, it sits on government land, and that now must be rezoned.
Dean Plaskett, Department of Planning and Natural Resources commissioner, said last week that the site Ashby wants to use needs to be rezoned. He said it is zoned R-1, residential.
Rodriguez said this week that he was incredulous at how an area which abuts a dump could be zoned as residential. "Someone may be trying to force him [Ashby] to shred the tires on the government property for free, but that wasn't part of the original contract," he said. "A-9 has the contract for the management of the landfill currently, but at the time of the original contract there was nothing that involved shredding tires.
"I'm at a loss," Rodriquez said. "I really feel sorry for Mr. Ashby. He tried to do something good for the community, and the government has been giving him the runaround. How complicated is it to set up that piece of equipment? All you need to do is get permission."
He added, "Over the last three years, our customers have paid over $70,000 for shredding that hasn't occurred, but that, at one point, will occur."
The zoning apparently goes back many years and has a history of its own with Bovoni residents objecting to an industrial enterprise nearby.
Ashby pointed out Thursday that the shredder is electric, emits no pollutants, and, furthermore, would be enclosed in a building. And the shredded tires are less of a fire hazard. Ashby said the shredded tires come out about the size of pebble. The product can be used in road paving. He said he would use some of it to lay the foundation in the vented "cells," where garbage is stored. "It's not an environmental hazard," Ashby said. However, the mosquitos there now are an immediate environmental and health hazard, especially since September's rains.
Bovoni residents say the mosquitos are very bad this year. Ideta Matthew, a student volunteer at
the Bovoni Weed and Seed program, said there has been no fogging in the area. "Lots of mosquitos come up that long stretch of road coming up here. There's lots of them there in the bushes."
Clarice Comissiong, Health Department deputy commissioner for public health services, said Wednesday that the department has been doing "hand fogging" for the past couple weeks. She said the staff has been "out in the country, but I don't know how far they got. I can ask them to give Bovoni a second shot."
Comissiong said the department has gotten complaints from the truck foggers in the past. "We have had complaints of allergies," she said. She said the department is trying to get the vehicles back on the road, but they don't have the mounted equipment for them. "One of the trucks is in the motor pool, but we are trying to identify the funding for the equipment."
Ashby said he sprays larvicide on the thousands of tires at the landfill each week. "I feel it's my responsibility," he said.
What's next for the tire shredder saga remains unclear. George may know, but he hasn't answered calls from the Source. Callwood said it isn't his department's problem. Plaskett has said it's a re-zoning problem, but calls to employees in the Coastal Zone Management division shed no light on when that issue might be heard.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice… click here.