During a town hall meeting on Wednesday evening, Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority officials discussed the territory’s newly proposed fee structure for solid waste disposal and wastewater treatment.
After the overview of VIWMA’s latest efforts, St. Thomas residents from Anna’s Retreat and Smith Bay asked the officials about the new policies, but the majority of their concerns focused on the lack of proper enforcement for illegal dumping.
Steven Aubin, VIWMA’s acting executive director who replaced May Adams Cornwall after she retired in late February, and Mario Leonard, VIWMA’s solid waste division director for the St. Thomas and St. John district, explained how the collection services would work.
Currently the territory does not charge for residential waste disposal, a practice that is unheard of in the U.S. mainland. The Public Services Commission will soon vote on the dollar amount to be added to property taxes for waste disposal costs.
Leonard said that the house-to-house collections will only happen one day a week due to the cost of multiple weekly pickups and to reduce the strain they put on garbage trucks. The new pickup days are available on VIWMA’s website.
Residents are permitted to have two 64-gallon trash containers for solid waste and one 30-gallon sealed bag or container for green waste. The authority suggests placing trash out the night before the scheduled pickup time, since some garbage trucks will come early in the morning.
Multifamily units with more than four apartments and commercial businesses are required to handle their own disposal services by taking their trash directly to the landfill or paying a hauler to do so.
Some residents expressed frustration that house-to-house collection isn’t available in their areas, but Leonard said that they can request to be added to the collection route so long as the road can accommodate garbage trucks.
Others voiced concern about charging to dispose of trash.
Kysha Wallace, VIWMA’s acting communications manager, reminded that without the fees her group can’t hire more enforcement officers to fight illegal dumping and make sure weekly trash collections are running smoothly.
Senators Marvin A. Blyden and Justin Harrigan attended the town hall meeting. Blyden expressed his support for implementing fees though he did not state if he backs the current proposed structure. Harrigan emphasized the need for more timely house-to-house garbage pickups and more oversight of contracted haulers.
“We actually generate three to four times more trash than other places in the U.S.,” Aubin said, adding that Virgin Islanders really need to cut back on trash generation. “These fees are really important because we are really underfunded for what we need to do.”
For people who don’t live in areas with house-to-house collections, VIWMA will begin phasing in more convenience centers that are designed to efficiently compact trash like the one that was opened in Peter’s Rest on St. Croix about five year ago.
Leonard explained that the convenience centers will finally allow the territory to close open bin sites, which are highly susceptible to illegal dumping.
The convenience center on St. Thomas has already been constructed in Mandahl and it set to open soon in order to serve residents who don’t have access to house-to-house trash collection. VIWMA is considering building others in Smith Bay, Nazareth and Northside, as well as on Water Island and St. John.
“We’re there to serve you and make your life more convenient relative to how trash is collected in the islands,” Leonard said.
Aubin also spoke about the state of the territory’s wastewater treatment programs, saying they are all in need of “very intensive capital improvement” and anything short of replacing the entire system is just an “interim repair.”
To finance the cost of repairs and maintenance, VIWMA plans to also charge customers for tying into the public sewer system, which 23,000 people currently use. Both solid and wastewater treatment are currently subsidized by the local government’s General Fund, among others, but VIWMA has been mandated to create fees to pay for the services it provides.
“The main fee we have is added to property tax. Those of you connected to the sewer or are within 60 feet of the sewer line, you’ll see a line item in your property tax bill that says sewer fee,” Aubin said.
The sewer system cost would be around $110 each year, which is considerably less than the $500 VIWMA says is more inline with the actual cost. Trucks that pump wastewater from septic tanks would pay $75 for each 1,000 pounds of sewage.
Leonard said that VIWMA intends to hold two town meetings a month in different parts of the island to engage people about their efforts and provide a space for public comment.
Editor’s note: The Source originally misstated that Harrigan supported the fee structure. A note from his office stated that: "Senator Harrigan has not expressed publicly that he is in support of the fees as proposed. While there is a definite need to implement fees, Senator Harrigan cannot accept the proposed fee amounts at this time apart from the proper review and investigation by the Public Services Commission, on which he serves as an ex-officio member."