The V.I. Waste Management Authority has finally paid the $15 million it owed to haulers after the 2017 hurricanes and is on track to shut down the territory’s exhausted landfills and build five new convenience centers for residential garbage collection, Executive Director Roger Merritt Jr. told the board of directors on Tuesday.
VIWMA has paid $14,709,790 to nine solid waste service providers and is finalizing invoices for the remaining funds – $290,209 – to go to Sleepy’s Trucking, Merritt told the board.
The payments end a long-running saga that began with the chaos of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017, when haulers were contracted to help remove the mountains of debris left by the storms. Invoicing confusion delayed restitution for more than three years, and in October the V.I. Legislature appropriated $15 million to resolve the outstanding vendor debts.
The Authority also is on course to begin shutting down the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas and the Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix, and to fast-track five of nine planned convenience centers across the territory, said Merritt, who returned to helm VIWMA in August after departing for another job in February 2018.
The landfills have been under a federal consent decree since 2006 in the case of Anguilla, with a federal order to move the dump that is so close to the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport that birds pose a potentially fatal hazard to aircraft. Problems regarding the disposal of batteries, used oil and leachate at the Bovoni Landfill brought additional Environmental Protection Agency citations in 2010.
In all, the territory’s waste management has been before the courts since 1984 – 20 years before VIWMA was created – concerning violations of the Clean Water Act.
In his report to the board on Tuesday, Merritt said flyovers are being conducted to prepare plans for both landfills, including a study using a “sniffer drone” with infrared capabilities to detect hot spots that could lead to fires – a problem that has plagued the Anguilla dump in particular.
The closures, and the acquisition and design of new landfill sites, will be funded in part by a $22 million Community Development Block Grant for disaster recovery and $100 million in CDBG-Mitigation funding through the Housing Finance Authority, said Juanita Iles, the Authority’s grant administrator.
Another $185 million is tentatively allocated for fixing the territory’s wastewater treatment plants, but it is still in the application phase before the Housing Finance Authority, said Iles.
Currently, loads of dirt are being applied up to 12 inches deep atop the Anguilla Landfill, said Merritt. “That’s how you start phasing things for closure,” he said, and to ensure that no oxygen is reaching trash to prevent fires in the future.
“We have a lot of really good things going on at both landfills. … We’re starting to change the mindset of how we operate both landfills” in preparation for new ones that will adhere to EPA rules as if they were on the mainland, said Merritt. “That’s the ultimate vision. That’s what the landfills have to operate like going forward.”
Many issues remain to be worked out in pursuit of an integrated solid waste management plan, which Merritt said is pending, including tipping fees charged to haulers. Implemented in 2016 by the Public Services Commission to help fund VIWMA, the fees have been largely suspended since 2017 after a disagreement over how trash is measured at Anguilla – by weight – versus Bovoni – by volume after its weigh-scale broke. A PSC meeting in December to resolve the issue did not have a quorum, said Merritt.
Also under review is how to divert oil and scrap metal, including junked cars, from ending up in the landfills, said Merritt. Currently, cars are permitted if all fluids have been properly drained, so they do not spark fires, he said. “I would rather not have all of these vehicles, but yes, we’re in a position to accept them,” he told board Chairman Keith Richards. “But let’s come up with a better solution.”
Board member and acting Public Works Commissioner Dennis Brow pledged his support for a long-term plan, noting his department is charged with collecting waste oil as well as derelict cars.
“It becomes a major problem sometimes … there are times when it’s just overwhelming,” said Brow.
The construction of five new convenience centers to handle the collection and separation of household trash will help move the territory toward the goal of a comprehensive plan, and cut down on the number of bin sites, of which there are 30 on St. Thomas alone, said Merritt.
The centers will be located on government land at Concordia and Mon Bijou on St. Croix; Smith Bay and Nazareth on St. Thomas; and at the Susannaberg Transfer Station on St. John, according to Merritt’s report. They will cost about $1.5 million each, funded through a portion of the $22 million CDBG-DR grant, said Iles. The hope is to have design and construction completed in 12 to 18 months, said Merritt.
The territory currently has two convenience centers – one in Estate Mandahl on St. Thomas and another at Peter’s Rest on St. Croix – where garbage can be separated by type for recycling, including white goods such as refrigerators and washing machines, bulk waste such as mattresses and furniture and e-waste such as computers.
Beyond helping to keep items out of the landfills that don’t belong there, the convenience centers also reduce the amount that VIWMA currently pays haulers to collect trash from the territory’s many bin sites, said Merritt.
“I think convenience centers are a major part of how we want to deal with solid waste in the future,” said Merritt. “Convenience centers are a way to scale back from these bin sites.”
In the meantime, the Authority is shifting from month-to-month and emergency contracts for waste haulers – which led to confusion after the hurricanes as well as ongoing budgeting headaches for the accounting department – to drafting requests for proposal for 5-year agreements with possibly two 1-year options to extend, said Merritt. He expects the move will result in cost savings of $100,000 per month, and even more as the convenience centers come online and bins are eliminated.
In other business on Tuesday:
– The LBJ force main sewer line on St. Croix, which has been prone to ruptures and overflows through the years, is operational as of Jan. 8, with one house pump and one diesel pump out for repairs;
– The Mangrove Lagoon Tank cleaning and repairs on St. Thomas are 20 percent complete and “the project is moving along well,” said acting St. Thomas Wastewater Manager Evan Greenberg;
– Notice to proceed was given to contractor INECO to order the bar screen, pump and control panel so work can begin on the Nadir sewer line pump station repair on St. Thomas;
– Notice to proceed was given to Premier Construction on Jan. 15 for sewer line repairs at Anna’s Retreat on St. Thomas;
– Plans are underway to create a dedicated area for green waste at Body Slob on St. Croix in conjunction with the Agriculture Department and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, with the resulting mulch and compost going to farmers;
– EPA approval has been granted for the rehabilitation of sewer lines and manholes in Christiansted, St. Croix. The project is awaiting an agreement with DPNR, which is the grantee, but could start in late February and take about 18 months, according to acting St. Croix Wastewater Manager Ron Phillips; and
– VIWMA is awaiting insurance proceeds from the Property and Procurement Department to begin rebuilding the Anguilla Transfer Station, which was damaged by fires in June.