A tipping fee going into effect next month may raise the cost of doing business in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but Roger Merritt, executive director of the Waste Management Authority, made the case at a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday that it was necessary for operating the territory’s two landfills.
A fee for dropping garbage at the landfills has been controversial for 10 years. In a Senate hearing in December of 2011, May Adams Cornwall, the director of WMA then said, “It’s clear we’re going to have to impose fees.”
But her efforts faced opposition and no fee was implemented for years and when some were implemented six years later, they lasted only one day. Garbage haulers stopped hauling garbage, the fee was put on hold, and then the two hurricanes hit.
Merritt told the 50 people online for the virtual meeting that haulers had concerns in 2017 about the fee being based on tonnage. In response, the fee to go into effect on Jan. 10 will be based on volume — cubic yards.
The fee will be $2.50 per cubic yard. A hauler will pay $50 when emptying a 20-yard bin and $75 for a 30-yard bin. There will be no reduction if the bin is less than full.
Merritt said by making the charge by volume instead of by tonnage as landfill tipping fees are traditionally assessed; it would be easier for haulers to calculate the charge to be passed on to their customers.
Merritt said the $2.50 fee was very low to help the haulers ease into it. The fee will increase to $3.75 the second year; $5 the third year; $6.25 the fourth year and $7.50 the fifth year.
One hauler asked what was being done about illegal dumping at public waste bins. Merritt said long-awaited cameras had been installed at public bin sites across the territory and images of illegal dumpers were being captured. He said the public could expect to see some violators being fined.
Also, there were questions about when recycling programs would be initiated. Merritt talked about grant money for a waste divergent program to help prolong the life of the landfills. Waste that can be reused like uncontaminated soil will not be charged a tipping fee.
Diane Brook wanted it known that no recycling was being done at the Peter’s Rest Convenience Center. Merritt said residents might have been confused because there was once an aluminum recycling place in the same area. However, because residents must separate cardboard, plastic, and electric appliance at the center that could also lead residents to believe the materials are being recycled. Merritt said that when the territory’s planned five new convenience centers come online the Authority hopes to have ways of recycling.
A resident made the statement, “Since there is no money to be made in recycling, the government has to get involved.”
David Hughes, chairman of the Public Services Commission, told those in the meeting that the Commission wanted to see the fees implemented in the easiest possible way for the haulers. He said the fees will help “stabilize the Authority’s budget” and in that way help the haulers who perform services for the Authority get paid in a timely fashion.
The Authority will not accept cash at the landfill. Those who perform a service for the Authority will have the fees deducted from what is owed to them. Those who use the landfill regularly will be able to establish accounts.
The fee collected will be used for Waste Management Authority operations and not the closing of the landfills, according to Merritt. The estimated cost of closing the landfills would be about $100 million and the fee is expected to bring in about $5 million for the first year. Hughes said the fee was never meant to fund the Waste Management Authority’s budget.
Merritt said each of the landfills had several years of operations left.
However, in February 2020 the Authority hired Oasis Consulting Services to design and help with closing the Anguilla Landfill within 2021 or soon after, while identifying and preparing a new St. Croix landfill location.
The Federal Aviation Administration has had issues with potential risks to planes from birds attracted to the landfill, which is very close to the St. Croix airport. In 1997 the FAA started an enforcement action, threatening fines and the loss of federal funds for airports unless the territory started baling trash and planning to shut down the landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency went to court for violations of the Clean Water Act and the landfill has been under court order to close since 2006.
The closing of the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas has also been a subject of prior discussion by WMA.
An article on WasteDive, an industry website, cited what Guam has done as a success story. Waste management was taken over by a private firm, which implemented a relatively high tipping fee of $174 a ton. The high tipping fee along with subsidies from the government encouraged more recycling. Guam has the advantage of being close to southeast Asia where there is a market for recyclable materials.
The per ton tipping fee proposed in the Virgin Islands in 2017 varied by type of debris, from $31.28 for fill waste to $65.26 per ton for construction and demolition waste.