Recently, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Pete Lopez met with Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) to strengthen the partnerships formed with the territory during the emergency response and continue the close coordination on recovery efforts, including solid waste management, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure issues.
“EPA is focused on long-term recovery work with the overarching goal of helping U.S. Virgin Islands communities build capacity and regain their footing,” said Lopez. “Hurricanes Irma and Maria resulted in profound losses, but they were no match for the resiliency of the U.S. Virgin Islands people. But now it’s time to look for ways to be flexible, entrepreneurial and innovative, working with our partners to organize our resources and to address the island’s unique circumstances.”
EPA is engaged in conversations on a variety of topics, including environmental, housing and infrastructure issues, during the several meetings with local leaders. It will continue to work and find ways to bring resources to the USVI and look for ways to be flexible. Lopez met with V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner JP Oriol and representatives from the V.I. Department of Health, the V.I. Waste Management Authority as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
EPA is proposing to tentatively approve the U.S. Virgin Islands municipal solid waste landfill permit program. This proposed approval is a key step for the territory to, among other things, be able to expand existing landfills, construct new landfills, and allow the use of alternative daily cover and other operational flexibilities at the landfills. A public hearing will be held on St. Croix on Tuesday, July 23; a second hearing will take place on St. Thomas on Wednesday, July 24; and a third hearing will take place on St. John on Thursday, July 25.
EPA encourages the USVI to complete and implement its Solid Waste Management Plan, which should lay out the vision for the proper management of the solid waste, the diversion of materials from landfills, include a disaster debris management component and describe how solid waste management will be funded in an economically sustainable manner going forward.
The agency is continuing to assess landfills throughout the Virgin Islands. Working with federal, territorial, community and education partners, EPA has convened stakeholders, facilitated dialogue, provided technical resources and supplied key information to empower local decision-makers to move ahead with a solid waste management program for the Caribbean. To support these efforts as part of USVI recovery, it has allocated $10 million in supplemental funds to the territory.
Included in EPA’s work after the hurricanes was collecting hazardous materials and hazardous waste; assessing wastewater treatment plants and pumping stations; assessing drinking water systems; assessing Superfund sites and chemical, waste and oil facilities; rebuilding local scientific laboratory capacity; and helping repair air monitoring networks in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
On June 4, 2019, EPA and FEMA announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that streamlines coordination between FEMA and the EPA-funded State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs so that funding to restore vital water infrastructure can be provided as quickly as possible in times of disaster. In disaster situations where cash reserves are stretched thin, the EPA-FEMA MOU provides local government access to a no-interest or low-interest loan to help pay for the immediate restoration of vital drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.
“We are dedicated to improving public health and the environment for our neighbors in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Lopez. “We know there is a lot of work ahead of us but have faith in the strong partnerships we enjoy with our federal, state and local groups and leaders. Together, we have the energy, passion and ability to get the job done.”