Interim Director’s Departure Leaves WMA in Free Fall

Interim Waste Management Authority Director Tawana Albany Nicholas testifies before the Senate in April. (V.I. Legislature file photo)
Interim Waste Management Authority Director Tawana Albany Nicholas testifies before the Senate in April. (V.I. Legislature file photo)

The downslide of the Waste Management Authority seems to have continued again last week with the absence of the agency’s interim director, Tawana Albany-Nicholas.

Word that WMA interim Executive Director Albany-Nicholas left her post came up as a St. Thomas lawmaker inquired about leaking sewage at a public housing community.

The answer to that inquiry left questions about who, if anyone, is ready or available to answer the call for help.

Nicholas becomes the latest WMA executive to either quit or be fired since February. Her first official appearance came at a compliance hearing in District Court the day after the former WMA director, Roger Merritt, resigned.

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There has been no word from Government House about management changes at the agency responsible for management of the territory’s landfills and wastewater collection and treatment facilities.

In a statement issued Friday, St. Thomas-St. John district Sen. Jean Forde said he found out that Albany-Nicholas had left when he tried to call attention to an open pool of raw sewage in an area between Paul M. Pearson Garden Housing Community and Lucinda Millin Home for the Aged.

“Sen. Forde has since, personally attempted to contact VIWMA’s Executive Director … on behalf of residents of PMP, with no response. After several telephone calls and email, the senator learned on Aug. 17 that the Executive Director Albany-Nicholas was no long with the Authority. An acting director has yet to be identified,” said Forde spokeswoman Imani Daniel.

The latest apparent resignation comes almost one year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria left the Virgin Islands left towering piles of debris across the landscapes of St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix and Water Island.

Emergency managers, along with FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers helped manage the staggering task. But by March it became apparent that WMA had fallen behind in its efforts to meet the terms of two long standing federal consent decrees.

In the case of the wastewater management system, District Court Judge Curtis Gomez declared the agency in violation of the consent decree. That violation is rooted in financial problems and the WMA’s inability to pay its contractor, Veolia Water North America-Caribbean, LLC.

As a result, the portion of the consent order that calls for construction and operation of new wastewater treatment plants is in danger of collapse. Veolia informed the court in July it was ready to cease operations.

In July, Albany-Nicholas told Gomez WMA would hire and train its staff, in house, to run the facilities and hoped to sustain enough cooperation from the outgoing contractor to achieve that goal.

In July the agency’s efforts appeared to still be moving forward. Two WMA statements point to the start and completion of repairs to a collapsed sewer line in Hospital Ground.

But overall management shortfalls persisted. An overlooked deadline in landfill management appeared to put a second WMA federal case in jeopardy.

Violations of the Clean Water Act led to the initiation of a federal lawsuit at Anguilla and Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas. Anguilla’s proximity to the Henry Rolshen Airport also led to concerns from the Federal Aviation Administration about scavenging birds.

Albany-Nicholas admitted in court the agency had overlooked a Sept. 30 deadline to stop accepting solid waste at the Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix. The clock is now ticking towards the end of September and WMA leadership appears to be missing in action.

The Virgin Islands Port Authority, the agency in charge of Rolshen Airport, is also named as a defendant on the landfill case. In late July the director of VIPA expressed confidence that the two agencies would find a way to meet the looming deadline.

“The Virgin Islands Port Authority is aware of the consent decree issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which included a Sept. 30, 2018, deadline to stop accepting trash at the Anguilla Landfill,” said VIPA Director David Mapp. “VIWMA and VIPA are working together to comply with the terms of the consent decree.”

A visit to the WMA office complex in Altona on Friday produced the name of LaToya Williams as the person now in charge at the agency. Williams, who was the treasurer of the WMA Board of Directors, moved up to chairman after Gov. Kenneth Mapp removed Hairith Wickrema March 9.

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