Bovoni landfill will reach full capacity in a matter of months
Published: September 12, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The Bovoni landfill is in danger of bursting at the seams, Waste Management Authority Executive Director May Adams Cornwall said Wednesday.
At the same time, an $18 million request from the Waste Management Authority could have the same impact on the government's budget, as it was not accounted for by the governor's financial team in their presentation to the 30th Legislature, according to Sen. Clifford Graham, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
The $18 million is just a chunk of what the Waste Management Authority estimates it will need to comply with two federal consent decrees related to the closure of the landfills in each district. Ultimately, $70 to $80 million will be needed to close the landfills by deadlines set by the Environmental Protection Agency - 2019 on St. Thomas and 2020 on St. Croix.
The closures will necessitate meeting a slew of other remedial and intermediate requirements, such as gas collection systems; stormwater run-off systems; and ground water monitoring before cap-and-cover mechanisms restrict the depositing of new waste and seal the landfills from affecting the land around them.
Cornwall said that with respect to the "publicly exigent" funding request, the term closure should not be interpreted to mean abolishment. Rather it refers to the level of stabilization and containment at the landfills required by the EPA.
The EPA has agreed to make the deadlines flexible for some of the intermediate requirements, given the lack of availability of public funds, but the need for stabilizing the Bovoni landfill, which is rapidly filling up and will be vulnerable to destruction by storms, are immediate, Cornwall said.
"We have hardly any space at the landfill. We have two to three months before the landfill totally reaches capacity, and part of that is because we have not constructed a wall on the west berm. That wall would meet the requirements of the consent decree for the landfill and would increase the capacity," Cornwall said.
The primary reason the wall has not been built up to this point has been a lack of funding for waste capital projects, according to Cornwall.
Because the waste keeps mounting, Cornwall said, the landfill is in danger of piling up too high and spilling over into the access road on the east side. At least one land owner already has sued the Waste Management Authority, claiming that waste has flowed over onto their adjacent property, she said.
On St. Croix, where the Anguilla landfill's 42 acres have adequate stacking and containment systems, the problem is not as dire, Cornwall said. But, on St. Thomas, there is not an environmentally suitable location for an alternative dump, and the Bovoni landfill's 34 acres will not hold the islands's garbage for long. The landfill stands at a height of 219 feet above sea level and will reach 230 feet before it is capped and closed, she said.
"It's going straight up. It's going to fail. It's going to end up toppling on itself," Cornwall said.
The territory opted out of closing the landfills without costly environmental remediation work in the mid-1990s, when the EPA offered to let municipalities that were willing to build new facilities abandon old facilities without bringing them up to new regulations, Cornwall said.
"We were under the radar for many years, and there was no push for anybody to do anything," Cornwall said.
The consent decree could be interpreted as the culmination of seven different administrative orders the EPA issued to the territory since 1998, according to Cornwall. She said the poor design of the Bovoni landfill, which was considered just a "place where you go put the garbage" when it initially was being constructed, means that it lacks basic EPA-required features, such as a lining to prevent contamination of groundwater.
The $18 million request falls outside of the Waste Management Authority's operating budget request of $31.16 million for Fiscal Year 2014. The Waste Management Authority has little ability to float bonds for capital improvements, as its does not collect fees that would give it a sufficient revenue stream to back up the bonds. For that reason, as well as a five-year plan for self-sufficiency that would relieve it from dependence on the General Fund, the Waste Management Authority is considering gradually imposing tipping fees, Cornwall said.
"We can't keep saying we are going to kick the can down the road another five years," she said. "So now I come in and I ask for $18 million, but now you have pushed me to the point where I need all of the $18 million. That's the issue. Somebody has got to pay for all of this, and normally when you build a new landfill, the tipping fees pay for that closure throughout the life of the landfill."
Cornwall said that she made the request in May during budget calls to the Office of Management and Budget but was told that she needed to submit it to the Legislature for approval.
Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb said the $18 million was not included in the FY 2014 budget because the Waste Management Authority buried the request in an overall budget submitted weeks after the deadline.
Sen. Clifford Graham said such a sizable and exigent request calls into question whether the governor's financial team can be said to have furnished a "balanced budget" at all.
The reprogramming of $1.85 million from $2.85 million of Public Finance Authority-floated bonds for a gas-to-energy system could pay for the wall on the west berm, estimated at $800,000 and some of the other critical needs, Cornwall said, but a longer term solution has already come and gone and died for lack of political will.
Cornwall said she and Hugo Hodge Jr., executive director of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, were in discussions about reintroducing the idea of a waste-to-energy program that would convert solid waste into electricity.
Cornwall and Hodge acknowledged that the proposal would be an uphill battle, because widespread opposition to such a program when an agreement with a company called Alpine Energy for a similar program was rejected by the 29th Legislature. Environmental activists concerned about the emissions involved, coupled with a $20 million a year price tag to the Waste Management Authority, swayed legislators away from approval.
Cornwall and Hodge said many of the problems the Waste Management Authority is facing in terms of EPA compliance and site stabilization could have been avoided by executing the agreement with Alpine Energy.
"In these small island nations, where land mass is limited, everyone is looking at waste-to-energy," Cornwall said.
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