Residents of St. John’s Coral Bay area are fed up with the dump fire at Tortola’s Pockwood Pond, which has burned intermittently for several years.
The most recent flareup, which started last week, has even prompted one resident to call the dump the “British Virgin Islands’ Dirty Little Secret.”—a play on the B.V.I.’s “Nature’s Little Secret” tourism marketing campaign.
Sharon Coldren, president of the Coral Bay Community Council, said she’s received emails and phone calls from every corner of Coral Bay complaining about the smoke.
“I’ve had people suggest we take it to the United Nations,” she said.
Coldren has been in email contact with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and local government officials as well as B.V.I. Permanent Secretary Rosalie Adams since “really bad” smoke started on Dec. 28.
“We’ve gotten an apology from the B.V.I., but no reassurances that the problem will be permanently corrected," Coldren said.
On Monday, the smoke could be smelled in Estate Rendezvous, located on St. John’s south side and far away from Coral Bay.
Because the dump fire is in the British Virgin Islands, the local and federal governments can only urge the B.V.I. government to solve the problem. In November 2009, the B.V.I. government received local and federal officials, as well as Coldren, to discuss the issue.
At that time the B.V.I. government said that a new incinerator would be online in the second quarter of 2010. That time frame is long past, and the smoke issue continues.
Adams said Tuesday that mechanical problems have delayed the incinerator’s startup.
She also said that the smoke comes from burning garbage. However, she said it appears items, such as tires and paint, are going into the dump to be burned instead of being diverted from the waste stream.
Adams said the B.V.I. government agreed at the 2009 meeting to sort garbage so those materials wouldn’t be burned.
“For a long time we had no emissions like we had the other day,” she said.
Coral Bay residents would disagree since they’ve suffered intermittently since at least the summer with this go-round of the problem.
Jim Casey, the EPA’s St. Thomas-based coordinator, said that while the EPA is providing technical assistance to the local government and Coral Bay residents, it was an international matter.
“In terms of a stronger push, this lies with the Department of State,” he said.
Casey also said that it’s up to the local government to work toward a resolution of this issue. Government House spokesman Jean Greaux could not be reached for comment.
EPA has four air monitors at two locations in the Coral Bay area, but Casey said since they became active in late December, they’ve only turned up low concentrations of emissions. He said that EPA is now considering using a different type of monitor.
Sen. Craig Barshinger, who lives on St. John, said that he will contact B.V.I. Premier Ralph T. O’Neal and Deputy Premier Dancia Penn to see what plans they have to resolve the issue.
Barshinger proposed that the BVI send its waste to the territory for use in a waste-to-energy facility. He said that since pet coke won’t be used in the proposed Alpine Energy facility, the territory will need more garbage than it normally produces to run the plant.
“We could offer to take it for a fee,” he said.
While part-time resident Maria Hull isn’t currently on island, she’s suffered numerous times when the smoke drifts to her East End home. She said it irritates her throat, lungs, and nose and makes her eyes sting.
“It’s miserable,” she said.
Coral Bay area resident Jean Vance can’t smell the smoke like many people who live on the northern side of Coral Bay, but she can see it.
“It looks like the mouth of a volcano,” she said, speaking about how the fire glows in the dark.
At 10 a.m. Tuesday, she said that only a little bit of smoke was coming out of the dump, but she said that wasn’t how it looked Christmas Day when black smoke belched out of the fire.