Residents Oppose WMA’s Environmental User Fee

The price of products such as milk and eggs — and everything else imported into the territory — will increase under WMA’s proposed user fee plan. St. John Tradewinds News Photo by Eliza Magro

The V.I. Waste Management Authority’s (WMA) plan to tax every single item imported into the territory to pay for the territory’s waste disposal has residents across the territory up in arms and St. John citizens are no exception.

The plan proposes levying an Environmental User Fee based on weight on all items which pass through Virgin Islands ports. The fee will be charged to the importing businesses who are expected to pass the tax burden on to consumers, meaning all residents will feel the pinch in their wallets.

WMA’s environmental fee plan must be approved by members of the V.I. Public Services Commission, which is chaired by St. John resident Alecia Wells.

Two public meetings to discuss the fee plan were conducted on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix, but no meetings were hosted on St. John. It remained unclear what impact the meetings will have as only a few PSC members attended each gathering.

While St. John residents did not have the chance to air their grievances in a public forum, many citizens are worried about the plan and hope PSC members vote it down.

“I’m really, really upset,” said Kate Norfleet, the St. John representative for the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce. “The WMA was given a mandate and we do need to improve our infrastructure and have the federal mandate be met, but it should not be done on the shoulders of the little guy which is what this will do.”

The tax is just another attack on the working people of the territory, according to Bonny Corbeil.

“I definitely don’t think the PSC should approve this plan,” said Corbeil. “This is another attack on the people of these islands, especially on St. John. To be putting the cost of food up again — we can barely survive as it is.”

The plan simply doesn’t make sense because the WMA will have to hire additional employees to check each individual item that enters the territory, in effect making the fee cover the cost of having the plan, explained Norfleet.

“In order for the WMA to assign the fees to every single piece of material they will have to create more jobs,” Norfleet said. “Every single product that comes in will have to be identified and weighed and assigned a tax rate. Who is going to do that in a timely manner?”

“How many people is it going to take to weigh every single can of beans?” Norfleet continued. “How long will it take for everything to get cleared through our ports?”

The WMA’s proposed plan is not the only alternative for complying with the federal mandates and improving the territory’s landfills and waste management, Norfleet added.

“There are other ways to establish the goals and meet the mandates that already exist and have already been tested,” she said. “Many communities have tipping fees where you pay per dumpster load instead of on every single thing that comes in here.”

In addition to creating a burden for the residents of the territory, WMA’s plan doesn’t include any incentives to reduce waste.

“There is absolutely no incentive to recycle or use less waste,” said Norfleet. “When you have already paid for it to be trashed when you purchase the item, no one is going to care about recycling it.”

Despite not having a formal platform to air their concerns, St. John residents should contact PSC members to object to the plan, Norfleet added.

“My request is to have PSC members be told how residents feel about this,” she said. “People must realize how this is going to impact their everyday lives from every single business to every single individual.”

Call 776-1291 to contact the PSC or send a fax to the commission at 774-4971.