EPA Approves USVI Self-Permitting of Landfills

The Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas. (Source file photo)
The Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas. (Source file photo)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday it has approved the U.S. Virgin Islands’ municipal solid waste landfill permit program, allowing the territory to manage its landfills and expand or create new ones.

The action also gives the territory more operational flexibility under EPA regulations. For example, the USVI can find alternative ways to provide daily cover to solid waste at the territory’s landfills and find alternative financial assurance mechanisms for new loans, according to an EPA press release issued Tuesday.

Both landfills are at or near capacity and have been under court orders to close for years now, but the closing dates have repeatedly moved into the future in part due to a lack of resources and a need for an alternative to the landfills. Land for a new dump on St. Croix has been identified on the island’s south shore, not far from the current landfill. There are tentative plans to expand Bovoni on St. Thomas. And the territory is moving towards doing more to reduce the volume of material in the landfill by shredding, compacting and baling. There are unfunded mandates to move toward large scale recycling too.

The Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix has been under decree since 2006, with a federal order to move the dump that is close enough to St. Croix’s Henry Rohlsen Airport that birds feasting on the refuse pose a potentially fatal threat to aircraft.

Likewise, problems at the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas regarding the disposal of batteries, used oil and leachate brought on additional citations in 2010.

Both landfills have also been cited for poor management of methane gas that has been known to cause spontaneous fires.

According to the terms of two separate consent decrees reached in 2012, Anguilla and Bovoni were scheduled to close on Sept. 30, 2018, and April 30, 2019, respectively.

Before making its final decision to approve the U.S. Virgin Islands’ program, EPA took public comments for 60 days and held three public hearings in July.

Most commenters supported the approval and several requested clarifications on the roles associated with USVI’s solid waste management and what approval would mean. According to EPA, it has provided responses, including the overview of the statutory role of the USVI and the federal government with solid waste management and landfill regulations.

“This approval empowers the USVI government to make necessary improvements to its solid waste management system and facilitates the territory’s path toward a resilient future,” EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said in the agency’s release.

Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix. (File photo)
Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix. (File photo)

“EPA is working continuously with the USVI to help it build capacity to reduce waste, prepare for managing waste from future storms, increase recycling, and promote a comprehensive and robust solid waste management program,” he said.

V.I. Planning and Natural Resources Division of Environmental Protection Director Kathlyn P. Worrell-George said she is “ecstatic” her team was “able to play a major role in such a triumphant achievement. The territory has come a long way, and we are pleased.”

The EPA statement says the agency is continuing to assess landfills throughout the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. And to support these efforts as part of the USVI’s hurricane recovery, $10 million in supplemental funds have reportedly been allocated to the territory.

This is the Virgin Islands’ third request for determination of adequacy under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s municipal solid waste landfill permit program. Two previous applications did not end in approval. In 1993, a permit was not approved due in part to adverse statements during public hearings. Again in 2000, the EPA held public hearings but decided to allow the territory more time to develop a solid waste management program.

On a related topic, the results of a municipal solid waste characterization field study, funded by EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and completed by the University of the Virgin Islands, are expected to be released in February. According to EPA, this study is the first step in developing and updating waste management programs and evaluating ways to reduce and manage waste and cut disposal costs. Along with helping create an integrated waste management program, the data collected will give the government useful information to help craft recycling policies.

EPA’s solid waste information gateway can be viewed at the agency’s website.

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