Waste Management nears end of wastewater federal consent decree

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Waste Management Authority is hoping that the next few months will be the final phase of its efforts to end a federal consent decree bound to its wastewater operations since 1984.

The authority's board of directors met with Waste Management officials Thursday at the Red Point facility on St. Thomas to discuss, among other items, the consent decree as well as the authority's struggle to find the means to cover Fiscal Year 2014 landfill closure costs.

Also Thursday, Waste Management Executive Director May Adams Cornwall said she plans to go before the V.I. Public Services Commission in April with a request for a fee schedule regarding disposal of specific types of waste, such as tires, appliances, light bulbs and electronics.

Consent decree

According to Cornwall, the Waste Management Authority is prepared to file a motion in District Court that would release it fully from a consent decree requested by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initially three decades ago.

The authority has been in and out of court over the years reporting on the status of the territory's wastewater system, particularly the pump stations, which have had numerous failures and caused millions of gallons of raw sewage to be spilled into the ocean.

If the Waste Management Authority's motion is accepted, it would result in the agency's release from the consent decree entirely. Five of its eight sites already are in compliance with the consent decree, Cornwall said.

To file the motion, the Waste Management Authority still needs to obtain the appropriate permits from the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources. The permits should be ready in the next few months, Cornwall said.

Being freed from the consent decree would be "historic" for the Waste Management Authority, she said.

However, the agency would continue to face two additional consent decrees tied to the authority's solid waste operations.

Those consent decrees are not expected to be lifted any time soon, Cornwall said, primarily because of the shortage of funding to take the initiative to remedy the concerns in the consent decrees.

Landfill closures

The remaining consent decrees relate to the closure of the landfill in each district. Both facilities are overflowing, according to Cornwall.

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 number of other remedial and intermediate requirements, such as gas collection systems; stormwater run-off systems; and groundwater monitoring before cap-and-cover mechanisms restrict the depositing of new waste and seal the landfills from affecting the land around them.

The Waste Management Authority this year is asking for $3.4 million for Fiscal Year 2014 improvements that are needed to accomplish what the EPA is asking.

Of the sum requested, $1.2 million would go toward bale production - or the compacting of waste - at the landfill; $1.2 million toward bale placement - appropriately stacking the compacted waste; and $800,000 toward engineering services for the closure of the landfills.

"Due to the downward revenue trajectory, the authority's allotment may be reduced to pay for the debt service corresponding to the bond issue of $67 million to close the territory's landfills," Waste Management Chief Financial Officer Deandre Atwell told board members and officials.

Atwell reported that if the government does not provide the full amount requested, the Waste Management Authority would struggle to cover its operations.

Hazardous waste

Additionally, the agency also discussed the fines it eventually hopes to collect from the disposal of specific waste products.

In April, Cornwall plans to submit a proposal to the Public Services Commission for establishing fees for the disposal of hazardous waste.

A third public hearing about the V.I. Waste Management Authority's proposal to add fees for hazardous waste disposal to the cost of goods at the point of importation was sparsely attended Wednesday on St. Thomas.

The fees would help the agency recover the cost of shipping and disposing of fluorescent tubes; electronics; white goods, such as refrigerators, washers and dryers; oil; tires; and vehicles.

These items, which are classified as hazardous waste because of toxic components, often are dumped illegally at the Waste Management Authority's bin sites and cannot be disposed of in the territory's landfills, according to Waste Management officials.

Illegally dumped waste forces the Waste Management Authority to pay permitted haulers to take it off-island and have it disposed of or recycled.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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