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Feds sue V.I. over landfills

By CONSTANCE COOPER, reporter, Daily News Staff
Published: July 16, 2010

ST. THOMAS — The federal government has filed a lawsuit against the V.I. Waste Management Authority and the Virgin Islands government that could cost the territory hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for their failure to bring the territory’s landfills up to Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“As a responsible community, we’re finding that if you don’t do enough to comply with regulations in the beginning, you end up paying for the compliance in the end,” Waste Management Authority Director May Adams Cornwall said in an interview. “I would have hoped that we could have done that, not because we had been ordered to do that, but because it was the right thing to do.”

Cornwall said that St. Thomas’ Bovoni landfill, which has been in use since 1970, and St. Croix’s Anguilla landfill, in operation since 1966, were not built to take trash over the long term. She said the authority has made strides toward meeting federal regulations, including awarding a contract and obtaining the necessary permits to build a St. Croix waste transfer station and obtaining $3.8 million in local funds to trap methane being emitted at the Bovoni dump.

“It’s kind of a little bit of a shoot-down when you’re working so hard to get something done,” Cornwall said. But, according to the federal government’s lawsuit, the authority has not been working hard enough. The EPA has been working with the local government for 10 years to bring the landfills into compliance with federal standards.

In June 2000, the V.I. government was tasked with correcting issues at the Bovoni landfill that resulted from improper disposal of medical and septic waste, failure to consistently cover the dump with dirt, improper disposal of used oil, the dumping of lead-acid batteries, contaminants seeping into Mangrove Lagoon and subterranean and surface fires at the dump, according to the lawsuit.

At Anguilla, the V.I. government agreed in September 2001 to correct issues that included failure to consistently cover the dump with dirt, inadequate security, inadequate inspection of garbage loads for hazardous waste, and subterranean and surface fires, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that the Waste Management Authority also agreed to make plans to close both dumps.

In October 2007, the authority submitted a landfill compliance schedule for Anguilla that said the dump would be closed by December 2008, the lawsuit states. In November 2005, the authority submitted a timetable to the EPA that promised that a long-term construction contract for the Bovoni landfill — including execution of the landfill’s closure — would be awarded by June 2008.

As of May 21, the progress with both landfills was deemed unsatisfactory enough that the U.S. Justice Department filed the suit on behalf of the EPA.

The lawsuit seeks the following penalties:

•    A fine of up to $27,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act from April 6, 2001, to March 15, 2004, at the Bovoni landfill

•    A fine of up to $27,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act from April 6, 2001, to March 15, 2004, at the Anguilla landfill.

•    A fine of up to $32,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act from March 15, 2004, to January 12, 2009, at the Bovoni landfill.

•    A fine of up to $32,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act from March 15, 2004, to January 12, 2009, at the Anguilla landfill.

•    A fine of up to $37,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act after January 12, 2009, at the Bovoni landfill.

•    A fine of up to $37,500 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act after January 12, 2009, at the Anguilla landfill.

Cornwall said that the lawsuit was “regrettable in the sense that it doesn’t send a good message to this community or to the staff that has been working extremely hard,” but added that a court action might help the authority garner the political will to charge waste fees to pay for the management and closure of the territory’s landfills.

The Environmental Protection Agency could not be reached by presstime for comment on the lawsuit.

 

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