Public Services Commission members voted unanimously Friday to order the V.I. Waste Management Authority to implement long-delayed tipping fees on commercial haulers by Jan. 1, which could help fund a “waste to energy” project and other trash disposal technology to curb the territory’s landfill crisis.
The order comes after the Authority missed a previous deadline of Sept. 16, and Waste Management Authority Executive Director Roger Merritt Jr. apologized and asked that implementation be delayed to the end of January.
“I’m perplexed,” said PSC member Raymond Williams Sr., who recalled crafting the language of the order to include the implementation date during a previous PSC meeting. “Did we not order this?”
PSC legal counsel Boyd Sprehn read the previous order to approve solid waste collection at annual rates requested by the Waste Management Authority, beginning with $2.50 per cubic yard in 2021 and increasing to $7.50 by 2025.
Construction demolition projects were to start at the $7.50 rate and implementation was to be delayed for 60 days to do public outreach and media announcements.
“So, it was effective by Sept. 16, 2021, for implementation,” Sprehn said.
Merritt explained that after preliminary discussion with the commercial haulers and learning that they wanted more input, Waste Management decided to issue a questionnaire before holding town hall meetings.
The questionnaire is not yet complete.
“We’re putting the questionnaire together, we’ll get the feedback, probably have the town halls at first quarter 2022,” Merritt said. “Going into that following quarter, we should have all the information we need and have all the questions answered and be able to basically start the process, I would think.”
The entities regulated by the PSC “literally ignore our orders,” and the missed deadline is a serious violation, Williams said. “This is nonsense, I’m sorry.”
“I can apologize because my understanding was, we could not implement the fee no sooner than 60 days, not that we had to implement it day 61,” Merritt said.
“We’ve got to do better,” and the PSC should not “tolerate or accept or allow for you or WAPA to keep telling us, push it up, kick the can, kick the can,” Williams said. “We’ve got to pick it up and put it in the trash, no pun intended,” Hughes said.
The PSC issued an order, and everyone already knows that at public hearings, “the haulers are going to tell you they don’t want to pay the rate,” Hughes said. Regardless of their objections, “we need to see the implementation of the ordered rate. It wasn’t a suggestion.”
Hughes said he would take Merritt’s explanation “as a good faith statement,” and not an attempt to circumvent the PSC’s order.
Merritt said he’s been trying to introduce the order carefully so as not to prompt another work stoppage by trash haulers as occurred on St. Croix over since-resolved differences between how trash would be measured at each landfill.
“Understand that some of those haulers and some of those ratepayers may actually protest [the fees]. So, I just want to make sure that everybody has an understanding. I know this is a fee that has to happen, but if we implement this right now, they may actually protest,” Merritt said.
“People don’t want to pay their light bill, but they pay,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, for your survival, for the Authority’s survival, you’ve got to do it.”
Hughes suggested that Merritt “might anticipate what you’re going to do, in the event you see that strike, with your counterpart over in the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs.”
The PSC is also urging Waste Management to collect the fee so it can help fund development of a “waste-to-energy” program that could generate electricity for WAPA while reducing the Authority’s reliance on landfills.
Deepwater Producers is already working with WAPA to create a waste-to-energy plant on St. Thomas, and “the limitations of it are almost more financial, in terms of how to compensate that third-party vendor to build and operate a base load generation plant,” Hughes said.
While burning garbage may sound distasteful, the technology has progressed to where, in terms of emissions, “it’s cleaner from an EPA standpoint than almost anything WAPA is doing today,” he added.
The landfills have long been under federal consent decrees and both landfills have repeatedly caught fire over the years. Shipping waste off-island to be disposed of elsewhere is expensive and combustion could be a solution that could help solve the waste crisis.
“It’s going to take a cooperative effort between Waste Management and the Water and Power Authority and the Office of the Governor, who funds Waste Management, to get this to happen,” Hughes said. “It makes so much sense at so many levels within the territory right now.”
A previous plan by Alpine Energy Group to build waste-to-energy plants on St. Thomas and St. Croix was met with fierce opposition by the community and eventually abandoned.