More than 30 St. John residents remained calm and collected while commenting on the V.I. Waste Management Authority’s proposed wastewater and environmental user fees at a Monday evening, November 19, town hall meeting — a welcome respite from the “demoralizing” comments WMA officials experienced at town meetings on St. Croix and St. Thomas, explained WMA Executive Director May Cornwall.
Cornwall kicked off the meeting at the St. John Legislature by asking the audience to keep in mind the WMA was legislatively mandated to be self sufficient.
“We inherited a system of inefficiencies and deficiencies,” said Cornwall. “We have 75-plus local contractors who provide services. Their business expenses are increasing and they pass that on to us.”
WMA recently proposed a fee schedule which would impose a per-pound environmental user fee, ranging from seven cents to 12 cents, on all goods imported to the Virgin Islands. An additional wastewater user fee will bring the cost of sewer service to $110 annually. That amount will increase by 15 percent each year for 15 years, leveling out at $600. WMA’s new fee schedule requires the approval of the V.I. Public Services Commission, which will consider the issue on November 28.
Recycling and other programs to manage the islands’ waste require infrastructure be put in place, which requires money, explained Cornwall.
“The environmental user fee is a reliable and dedicated source of funds,” she said. “We’re trying our best to incorporate your comments toward a resolution. We’re not inflexible, but waste must be paid for.”
WMA’s budget, 60 percent of which goes to contract services, is open to the public, Cornwall added.
St. John resident Dr. Iris Kern, a local victim’s advocate, shared her concern over the affect the user fees will have on the territory’s poor.
“We have an income disparity that’s greater than most of the world,” said Kern. “The user fee makes no differentiation, so it’s going to hurt the poor far more than anyone else. That deeply concerns me.”
Cornwall acknowledged the income disparity, and explained the WMA is examining ways to provide some relief to lower-income residents.
The fees may also impact another important segment of the population — tourists, according to St. Johnian Lorelei Monsanto.
“This is going to be the most expensive destination to come to,” said Monsanto. “We need to streamline what we’re doing here.”
Tourists are more likely to be run away by garbage piled up throughout the island than by expensive groceries and souvenirs, Cornwall replied.
Longtime resident Nancy Hedlund recalled a time when aluminum cans were recycled on St. John, and urged WMA officials to bring the practice back.
“A bin for aluminum cans will be placed at the Susannaberg Transfer Station,” said Cornwall. “You will get back a reward for your recycling effort. It can happen again.”
Also new at the Susannaberg Transfer Station will be a complete modernization of the facility, Cornwall added.
Look At Illegal Dumping
Georgyan Evans, who served on waste management committees in the past, suggested the WMA get tough on illegal dumping by imposing strict fees.
“I’d like us to model ourselves after those who have been there, done that, and done it right,” said Evans.
Cornwall applauded Evans’ idea to go after those who dump illegally, however she cited problems with witnesses to the dumping as a reason more people are not prosecuted.
“We need people to come to court and testify,” said Cornwall. “What we’ve been doing is getting people to come out and clean up their mess without putting fines on them.”
Evans and several other residents questioned how the fee schedule will affect local businesses.
“Business owners in Cruz Bay are terrified of your fee schedule,” said Lonnie Willis, who owns two restaurants and a car rental business. “They don’t believe they can exist after this comes into being. In a sense, Waste Management is poised to break the back of the economy.”
It’s not the intention of the WMA to run businesses away, Cornwall explained.
“We’re not trying to have a negative impact, but the waste problem will have a negative impact if it’s not under control,” said the WMA executive director.
The WMA’s user fee proposal is just another bureaucratic step in the business of importation, explained local business owner Don Porter, who objected to the hiring of 15 new employees to help collect the fees.
“This is just another layer of bureaucracy, another step, another form,” said Porter. “This is not a good way to spend our money. Figure out a way to use existing employees.”
WMA will collect the fees at an office in Crown Bay near the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Customs, providing one-stop access to businesses importing goods to the V.I., according to the authority general counsel Iver Stridiron, who did not comment on where the WMA will collect fees on St. John.
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