Nov. 14, 2007 — Two speakers representing organizations not always perceived as being environmentally friendly went on the offensive Wednesday night at the annual meeting of the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA).
May Cornwall, executive director of the V.I. Waste Management Authority, gave the keynote speech, "Environmental User Fees: The Cost for Protecting Our Environment." Richard Smullen, vice president of environmental health and safety at Hovensa, followed with a speech about environmental programs.
In recent two-day workshops, 700 Hovensa employees had the opportunity to voice their opinion on what kind of company Hovensa should be, Smullen said.
"Without exception, safe and environmentally responsible operation was at the top of everyone's list," he said.
Smullen discussed a number of environmental programs in which Hovensa is involved. For the last five years, Hovensa has voluntarily worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help protect the least tern. Hovensa is aligned with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, a non-profit wildlife-rehabilitation organization in Newark, N.J.
An announcement that Hovensa is donating a $20,000 check to SEA's Environmental Education Program drew applause from the 62 SEA members in attendance. Vanessa Forbes, who oversees the education program, came forward to receive the check.
Smullen also went over the efforts Hovensa makes to prevent air and water pollution. In 1982, he said, HOVIC — the previous owner of the refinery — discovered that oil had leaked into the soil. Hovensa voluntarily cleaned that up and has set up a program to make sure that pollution does not happen again, he said.
Cornwall began the main part of her speech bluntly: "Since the press coverage has not been favorable, accurate and balanced, and to a greater degree has highlighted the negative side, allow me, just for the record, to present the positive side of this story. The WMA staff, management and board are obligated and committed to serving the public through our mission to protect public health and the environment."
She then gave a brief history of the accomplishments of the WMA. In her conclusion she discussed the proposed environmental-user fees. The fees, which have rate codes based on categories and weights of imported goods and their packaging, have become very controversial.
"We can agree that there are valid public comments relative to incentives and disincentives for environmentally friendly purchasing and recycling practices," Cornwall said. "Therefore we are committed to take another look at that aspect of the rate codes and the rates."
She also noted that the fees could cause some economic hardship, and the WMA is trying to find a balance where it becomes self-sustaining instead of being a burden on the government's General Fund.
Cornwall also addressed public comments that the user fees would be cumbersome to administer.
"Implementation in collaboration with U.S. Customs and the Internal Revenue Bureau would not slow the clearing process." she said. The authority has a plan that within five years the territory will recycle 25 percent of its waste, she said.
SEA also had a business meeting followed by an awards ceremony in the Mermaid Restaurant at the Buccaneer Resort.
The V.I. Energy Office won the SEA's Good Government Award. Carlos Tesitor and Ditty Layton won awards for years of service. Lisa Yntema won the Environmentalist of the Year award, but was not present to receive it. Don Buchanan, media specialist at the Energy Office, accepted the Good Government Award.
Editor's note: Don Buchanan is the husband of Source reporter Carol Buchanan.
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