Without Millions In New Funding, Wastewater, Landfill Operations Could Stop

The V.I. Waste Management Authority owes contractors upwards of $10 million for baling at St. Croix’s Anguilla Landfill and for wastewater and, without more funding, operations at both may slow or stop, acting WMA Executive Director Steve Aubin told senators Thursday.

The WMA has also incurred about $12.8 million in costs for the closure of the Anguilla landfill, he said.

He said failing to come up with the extra funds, which are not part of the FY 2017 budget, will lead to "work stoppage by the impacted contractors … resulting in the failure to dispose of solid waste at the Anguilla landfill, discharging of untreated sewage into the environment."

It would also "undoubtedly create a public health crisis," he said.

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WMA is under two court orders to close the Bovoni and Anguilla landfills on St. Thomas and St. Croix, respectively. Gov. John deJongh Jr. included funds to close them in a bond proposal in 2014 that senators rejected. Senators approved a smaller amount in a later bond appropriation. As of October, 2015, WMA had accrued $2.5 million in penalties for violations at the two landfills and penalties continue to accrue at a rate of $1.6 million per year until the landfills meet the requirements, he said.

Not being able to bale trash would complicated the already underfunded closure plans. It would also be a problem for the V.I. Port Authority and its Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, because the landfill is on VIPA land adjacent to the airport. The Federal Aviation Administration has in the past held up capital grant funds to the V.I. Port Authority for work on the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport over the potential for birds attracted to the dump to become flight hazards. Baling prevents birds from being able to get at the trash, eliminating the bird hazard. If baling stops, birds could again be a hazard for the airport and the FAA could again step in, Aubin said.

Bale production costs $5.6 million per year, and has been unfunded since May 2014 when Public Finance Authority bond proceeds were exhausted, he said.

WMA is budgeted to get $3 million a year to help with sewage treatment costs, funded though the Wastewater User Fee on property tax bills. But the 2016 allotments were less than the appropriation.

The fund has a negative balance of $5.7 million and so only half the fees are given to WMA and the other half are going to pay off the negative balance. The shortfall "has contributed to delayed payments to the Authority’s primary wastewater contractor,Veolia, which operates the Harold Thompson Treatment Plant on St. Croix and the Pedrito Francois Treatment Plant on St. Thomas," Aubin said.

The WMA is proposing an increase in the wastewater user fee to help address the issue going forward, he said.

Sen. Clifford Graham said a bond proposal from Gov. Kenneth Mapp will include $6 million in working capital for WMA. But the $55 million bond issuance itself, which was planned as a partial solution to this year’s government budget deficit, may be impacted by the territory’s recent bond rating downgrade by Moody’s Investor Services, Graham said.

"But again we don’t know the fate of that bond application. We will probably have hearings on it in August," Graham said.

He and other senators were sympathetic to WMA’s issues, but were unsure if this year’s budget constraints allowed them to do much.

"It’s not that we are not hearing or not considering your needs but a lot of time it is the limited resources in government and we have to decide how we are going to carve up that pie so everyone can carry out their mandate," Graham said.

"We definitely know your needs, (but) especially seeing the result of the downgrade, we may not have the flexibility to have that additional funding in the FY 2017 budget," he said.

Aubin and WMA officials presented the government’s recommended FY 2017 budget for WMA of $32.04 million, almost unchanged from FY 2016. That includes: $22.85 million from the General Fund; $5 million from the Antilitter and Beautification Fund, fed by a fraction of excise taxes and by WMA fees; $3 million from the Sewage Fund; $500,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund; $300,000 from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund and $390,000 from the miscellaneous section of the budget.

The 2017 General Fund budget includes $11.1 million in "other services," primarily to pay WMA contractors; $5.7 million for wages and salaries, $2.5 million for associated employee benefits; $2.9 million for utilities and $583,000 in supplies.

No votes were taken during the information-gathering budget hearing. 

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