Senators, don't make more bad decisions about landfills
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This is an abridged Open Letter to the V.I. Legislature:
Given that the Energy Committee of the Legislature is taking up the use of a relatively expensive solar cover over the Bovoni and Anguilla landfills this week, it's obviously important to remind you of these critical safety concerns again, not to mention bad investments. I'll summarize a couple of points below:
Unlined landfills (both Anguilla and Bovoni are in this category) are an entirely different "animal" than lined landfills. Whenever V.I. Waste Management Authority or V.I. Public Works Department or anyone representing the V.I. government and V.I. public engage in discussions around options for dealing with your massive, mountainous and noncompliant "landfills" (old unconsolidated dumps), it is critically important that this single point be made abundantly clear at the onset of those discussions.
Every option considered would need to either be struck, or could possibly remain on the table based on this circumstance. Gas migration and structural integrity are both very much at play for both Bovoni and Anguilla.
1. Gas formation and migration: The bottom line is this: Gas migrates via the path of least resistance.
If or when we "cap" Bovoni and Anguilla, even if we poke gas collection pipes into those fills, the gas will take the path of least resistance. It doesn't listen to Waste Management Authority's calls for it to go one direction or another. It will go laterally into our neighborhoods if we cut off its natural tendency to migrate upward.
2. Lack of structural stability for unconsolidated and non-compliant landfills: I assume that some of you have heard stories of - or regrettably have first-hand experience with - the placement of infrastructure or structures atop land areas where there is unconsolidated material beneath the surface. When we talk about spending many many dollars placing expensive infrastructure atop either the Bovoni or Anguilla "landfills," we are talking about wasting all of that money on the one hand because it's at constant risk of damage from the absence of stability of these dumps, not to mention further delaying what must ultimately happen to stabilize and make environmentally and publicly safe areas out of these old dumps.
That is: To clean up and place liners as and where appropriate and bring these dumps into compliance with basic safety and environmental standards. They will both continue to contaminate ground and surface waters, and be public safety hazards, as long as they exist otherwise.
There are many qualified and true experts on this subject. If Waste Management Authority had such experts involved in these discussions to date, I suspect such proposals would not have gotten so far along. As I've said before:
At what point are leaders and policymakers in the USVI going to say: We are no longer going to buy into the lie that basic sound science, sound engineering and sound economics don't apply also to the Virgin Islands?
As someone with formal graduate engineering training and professional experience specific to these related areas of civil-environmental engineering, I've given you all of the cautionary comments I know to give you.
As decisions are made on these things, it is up to you now to take stands that protect the interests of the V.I. public and broader community.
- Susan Parten, P.E., St. Thomas