U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento and Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez wrapped up a visit with Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and other senior officials Tuesday as the territory was awarded $10 million for waste diversion work.
“The grant is going to enhance the territory’s waste diversion program. That program will assist the territory with the removal of organic waste, that is green waste, scrap metal and construction and demolition … debris from existing and future landfills,” Waste Management Authority spokeswoman Melody Rames said Thursday.
“The grant includes the acquisition of equipment, staffing and training. With the diversion of the three waste streams we just talked about from the landfill, the Authority is conserving airspace and reducing disposal costs. All activities will be performed by trained VIWMA staff,” she said.
According to a release from the EPA, the visit was focused on the challenges and successes of the continuing recovery work after the 2017 hurricanes and forging partnerships and finding ways to support those efforts.
“I gained an appreciation for the need for EPA’s partnership and collaboration with Virgin Islands’ agencies, and this trip reinforced my respect for the need for local decision-making as we all work toward full recovery for the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Benevento said.
The trip began Wednesday morning at Government House on St. Croix, where senior EPA officials participated in an open discussion regarding the U.S. Virgin Islands’ environmental and human health disaster recovery issues and critical needs, including the solid waste crisis in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Benevento, Bryan and Lopez announced the award of $10 million from the EPA to the U.S. Virgin Islands for hazardous and solid waste management assistance.
This funding is awarded through the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Relief under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which provides supplemental appropriations to respond to and recover from hurricanes.
“Today’s grant award is a major step forward in our administration’s efforts to solve the territory’s solid waste crisis,” Bryan said during the visit, according to the EPA release.
“The EPA has been a tremendous partner in our efforts to improve the territory’s solid waste infrastructure, and we are grateful for their continued support,” he said.
Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett said it is an important grant.
“By providing efficient waste management and recycling, the Virgin Islands can boost our reputation as a place that takes waste management seriously,” Plaskett said.
“Potential and existing customers will see us as a responsible and sustainable territory that cares about the environment, the future and the population. An incredible benefit of waste management is it can cut overall production costs in the long run. Recycling helps to conserve natural resources such as glass, plastic, paper and oil. Reusing these materials will place less strain on our natural resources and lower the cost of production. This grant will go a long way in maintaining the environment in the Virgin Islands,” she said.
Following the announcement, the trip continued with a visit to the Frederiksted Waterline Rehabilitation project, where nearly 18,000 feet of aging iron pipes are being replaced.
Officials joined Waste Management Authority acting Director Ann Hanley as they visited the Anguilla Landfill and Anguilla Wastewater Treatment Plant. In July 2019, the Anguilla Landfill caught fire, rendering the transfer station inoperable and destroying heavy equipment that was vital to landfill operation.
The landfill has caught fire at least nine times since Jan. 1 and at least 14 times since Jan. 1, 2019.
The landfill and Anguilla Wastewater Treatment Plant have both struggled for decades to meet the requirements of EPA consent decrees. The territory was millions of dollars behind in paying the company that historically ran the wastewater plant and has since taken over operations.
Both the Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix and the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas are under consent decrees mandating their closure, which has been repeatedly postponed largely due to financial constraints.
The Waste Management Authority owes millions to its trash haulers and companies managing the landfills, a fact that has delayed the implementation of trash dumping fees that would help pay those same haulers. The unpaid bills nearly led to the cessation of trash hauling in June.
In July of 2019, the Waste Management Authority owed trash haulers upward of $6 million and had an overall debt of $24 million.
In both cases, the U.S. Virgin Islands government is making some strides to improve operations. Funding sources such as the EPA supplemental grant announced yesterday and the $30 million already provided to the USVI to address water infrastructure are and will be a big part of that progress, according to the EPA release.