In recent weeks, members of the Virgin Islands 29th Legislature have debated and defeated three very pivotal issues related to the Alpine Energy Group’s (Alpine) proposal on waste to energy.
The first topic, Bill 29-0137, sought to abolish the semi-autonomous Waste Management Authority (WMA) and re-establish it as an agency under the Office of the Governor. In the bill’s transmittal letter to Senate President Russell, Governor deJongh stated, “If the government is to be financially responsible for these functions, and in the case of Alpine, when their operations are to be conducted on government land, then surely it makes better sense for the government to have direct management control and authority over these important and costly functions.” The debate further revealed the terms of the binding guarantee sought from the central government that would assure the Alpine fee structure regardless of the government’s circumstances. Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of the debate was the fact that if the WMA had already been under the Governor’s office, the public would have had little knowledge of this $20-million binding guarantee with Alpine.
The second discussion before the Legislature involved a lease on the island of St. Thomas where Alpine could construct a waste sorting and processing facility. Approval of the lease would have permitted Alpine to immediately begin construction despite the public outcry from community groups whose questions about the project have not been answered. As part of the lease agreement Alpine again sought a binding commitment from the VI government that would assure Alpine’s profit margin. This lease and the $20-million guarantee was voted down by the Legislature on February 7, 2012.
Without question the VI has both a waste and an energy dilemma. Developing a solution that would address both issues would be ideal. However, the issue is not an easy one. There are health concerns, environmental questions and perhaps most critical are the issues related to the price tag for such a project.
The third topic arose when the VI’s circumstances changed dramatically in January 2012. Approximately, 500 government workers were terminated from their jobs as of January 5 with an additional 500-2,600 government workers predicted to also be terminated within the coming months. On January 18, 2012 Hovensa, the largest private employer in the Virgin Islands, announced the closing of its oil refinery operation and the future termination of approximately 2,000 workers. The unemployment of up to 5,100 Virgin Islanders may result in many families making the decision to leave the Virgin Islands, which will likely result in a significant reduction in the production of solid waste.
As the VI endures this period of transition, policy makers and residents must ask themselves what the territory can afford. Many of our displaced workers will undoubtedly depart our shores in search of employment opportunities. This will change our demographics, our public finances and our ability to provide new services, regardless of how important they may be toward resolving long-standing issues.
AARP VI applauds the VI Legislature for stopping the current Alpine contract from moving forward, particularly at this point of community-wide uncertainty. Now is the time for us to re-consider our obligations, priorities and our options. Alpine’s concerns revolved solely around their bottom line profit margin and they have pledged to return with a new proposal.
Residents interested in finding out more about the reduced-cost options of recycling, reusing and reducing their waste being discussed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can learn more at the AARP Virgin Islands web page. We also encourage you to share your concerns about this issue and others via our social media sites on Facebook and Twitter.