A dozen or so St. John residents worked together Saturday evening to spruce up Franklin A. Powell, Sr., Park near Cruz Bay’s ferry dock.
The team planted donated bougainvilleas and spread mulch created from hurricane vegetative debris throughout several planters in the park.
With government-ordered plans underway to send the processed vegetative debris out of the territory, many residents, including farmers and environmentalists, see a missed opportunity to use the organic waste as mulch and to create much needed topsoil with it.
According to passersby who were present when the park beautification was taking place, the persons doing the planting and mulching said they wanted to show the community one of the ways the mulch could be used for public good if it stays in the territory. They reportedly also said they wanted to make the park feel warmer and more welcoming by improving the landscaping.
The next day, people passing by the park, including nearby business owners and workers, were surprised to see how well the mulch had been processed and how professional it looked in the planters.
Last week, the Source spoke with Josephine Roller of the Coral Bay Garden Center, who has been working on getting the mulch to stay in the territory.
Roller said she became alarmed in late April when the piles of wood chips began disappearing from Coral Bay as part of an effort to clear the ball field by May 15, the deadline set by the Government of the Virgin Islands, FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE,) and Ceres, the trucking company contracted to remove storm-related debris from St. John.
The matter has not been settled, and Rollers’ recent attempts to reach officials from Ceres and government have been futile, she said.
What to do with the estimated 750,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris throughout the territory has been a source of controversy. Mapp requested that the USACE burn the debris, but public opposition in November led the Senate to pass legislation to “ban the burn.” The governor vetoed the legislation, but his veto was overridden. Since then, the governor has decreed that all storm-related debris be transported off island.
The natural wood debris in Coral Bay has been processed twice through chippers and is suitable for turning into mulch or compost, according to a report made at an April 26 meeting of the St. John Long Term Recovery Team.
Farmers in the Virgin Islands struggle to maintain their soil health. Because of the territory’s steep terrain, they face serious erosion issues and topsoil is often in short supply.
Managing these piles of wood chips does require some expertise, according to Roller, explaining that she understood why officials might be reluctant to open the debris storage site to the public.
But, residents who want the mulch to stay local have collectively asked what the motives are for sending it off island. They would like to know what exporting it will cost versus keeping it here and managing the piles with adequate water, as well as determining a cost-effective and logical distribution plan for local use.