Coxheath dumpsite pictured on Wednesday after last week’s fire. (Photo: AMANDA ULRICH)

Late last year, government selected the unregistered company Kausina VI to haul hurricane debris to Coxheath before separating recyclables and shipping them off island.

But the firm — whose founder and CEO owes some $500,000 in a United States lawsuit and now faces a criminal charge in Georgia — hasn’t separated or removed any debris from the new dumpsite, in spite of previous promises to start sorting the waste by early April.

As Coxheath continues to burn in a fire that started last week, the CEO and his operations director both are in the US, and it is unclear whether they will return to finish the job the company agreed to do.

Stalled project

In February, Kausina VI launched what was intended to be a long-term waste project on Tortola. The firm said it planned to collect hurricane debris from around the island and process cars and heavy metals for eventual export.

Though the company did not receive direct payment for the job — it planned instead to earn money by selling recyclables — government provided various perks including work permit exemptions, the use of Department of Waste Management machinery and personnel, and shared office space, Kausina and government officials have said.

However, the first barge scheduled to transport heavy metals to an outside company was never loaded because of a “contractual issue,” according to Kausina VI Operations Director Louis Espinal, who said he is currently in California dealing with medical issues.

Mr. Espinal would not disclose the name of the other company involved in the dispute.

Kausina VI founder Walter Parker

“I’m not gonna go there; I’ll leave that up to [Kausina founder and CEO Walter Parker],” he said during a phone interview last month. “I don’t get involved with the contractual part of the operation.”

Mr. Parker did not respond to a request for comment on that point, or to several other questions raised by the Beacon, other than to say he would issue a press release. No further comments on those questions were provided by the Beacon’s press deadline three days later.

Partly because of its concern over the disputed contract, Mr. Espinal said, Kausina temporarily halted its operation in mid-February — only about two weeks after it had started.

At the time, Kausina also struggled to pay some of the local labourers it had briefly enlisted to help clear hurricane debris from around Tortola, Mr. Espinal said.

Because the first barge-load of recyclables had not been sold, there wasn’t enough money up front for the two-week cleanup process, he said.

“[Mr. Parker] took it upon himself to launch the operation to clean up the east side [of Tortola] because he felt within his heart that it was the right thing to do,” Mr. Espinal explained. “But that came to bite us because we didn’t have the funds to pay for those costs — labourers and machinery.”

He added that Mr. Parker eventually took out a personal loan to reimburse the labourers.

“I know that we had some issues with pay. I was very upset about the fact that we were running a little late in paying those people,” Mr. Espinal said. “[But] I specifically told [some of the workers] that I don’t handle money, that they would be paid through the logistical arm of Kausina.”

Mr. Parker did not provide comment about those payment issues.

Missed start date

In early March, Mr. Parker had said that Kausina would start sorting and processing waste at Coxheath on “approximately” April 2.

But the company has not begun that sorting process, according to Mr. Espinal and Department of Waste Management Manager Greg Massicote.

Instead, DWM employees themselves resumed separating the huge piles of trash several weeks before the fire for the first time since last November, Mr. Massicote said.

Still, no debris have yet been removed from the site.

Once the fire in Coxheath is completely put out, Mr. Massicote said, his team will resume attempts to clear the area.

“Our date that we were working towards was the start of the hurricane season,” he said. “This is more than just a fire hazard. We’re talking about debris, galvanised metal, that has the potential of becoming airborne in a storm.”

DWM is still hoping to export heavy metals from Coxheath off island for recycling, but Mr. Massicote said some recyclables may not be usable after the huge blaze.

“Everything that could have burned pretty much burned,” he said. “Some metals may not be acceptable depending on conditions. That will be determined once we get on the ground and go through everything.”

Mr. Massicote said he didn’t know how Kausina would fit into that plan in Coxheath, though one of the firm’s partners, Virgin Islander Allen Wheatley, has started crushing derelict vehicles in Pockwood Pond again.

The manager deferred questions about the status of the company’s agreement with government to the Ministry of Health and Social Development.

“When it comes to the contract, that information has to come from the ministry,” he said. “What we’re doing is trying to handle the situation as it is right now, which ultimately came from the fire, and separate whatever metals we can out of it.”

In an e-mail, HSD Permanent Secretary Petrona Davies avoided directly answering if Kausina employees were working in Coxheath, but maintained that the site has always been managed by the DWM.

Last Friday, Mr. Espinal said he had not heard about the Coxheath fire, and neither Mr. Parker nor Mr. Wheatley commented on the blaze or whether Kausina plans to resume work at the site.

Mr. Massicote confirmed that Virgin Islander Allen Wheatley has started to crush and process cars in Pockwood Pond again (pictured in February), though he could not comment on Kausina’s plans in Coxheath. (Photo: AMANDA ULRICH)

Director unaware of lawsuit

Meanwhile, Mr. Espinal has sought to distance himself from certain aspects of Kausina VI, saying that he was unaware of some ongoing issues the company faced behind the scenes.

After the Beacon published an article last month detailing Kausina VI’s agreement with government, Mr. Espinal reached out to this reporter, saying he was “shocked” by information about the firm reported in the story.

The operations director said he had no idea Mr. Parker and some of his former companies — including a firm the CEO described as Kausina VI’s “holding company” — had been sued in 2015 by a previous investor for breach of contract, or that Mr. Parker had been ordered to pay some $500,000 to that investor and was still being slapped with thousands of dollars in sanctions in relation to that lawsuit.

Mr. Espinal also said he did not know the company was no longer registered in the VI.

“If I would have known that Walter had been sued, I don’t think I would have ventured on the journey,” Mr. Espinal said during a phone call in April from the US. “I’m very conservative and I probably would have thought about it twice.”

Mr. Espinal said he served in the US Marine Corps with Mr. Parker from 1998 to 2000, and had not heard from him until Mr. Parker asked him to join the VI project last year.

“I did not know until I read that article that [Mr. Parker] had been sued or that Allen [Wheatley] had spent some time in jail [on corruption-related] charges,” he said, referring to the nine-month sentence Mr. Wheatley was ordered to serve in 2004 after a guilty plea.

“I am not Kausina. Basically, and to be fair to everyone, my main concern was the operation. All funding — monies, politics, everything else — I left to Walter, [VI consultant Kevin “OJ” Smith] and Allen.”

In spite of his misgivings, Mr. Espinal has not officially severed ties with Kausina, and said last month that he might return to Tortola to finish the waste operation after taking care of his personal medical appointments in California.

“I feel I owe it to the government and the people of the VI to finish it,” he said. “It’s like the VI has become my second home.”

Now, however, he might have more to consider.

On April 25, Mr. Parker was arrested in Georgia and charged with theft of service before being granted $1,000 bail, according to records from the state’s Fulton County Jail.

The records did not provide details, but according to state law the crime entails obtaining services “by deception” and with the “intent to avoid payment.”

Mr. Parker downplayed the charge this week.

“[The] only comment I have for you now was that it was a total misunderstanding that will result in charge being dropped quickly,” he wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday.

He did, however, request that more uplifting aspects of Kausina’s VI project be reported.

“Our firm would hope that the Beacon would focus on all the positive things we are doing versus take a total negative spin as has become a consensus that it is doing,” he wrote, though he did not detail any of those “positive things.”

Kausina still not registered

When selecting Kausina to conduct its waste removal operation, government did not launch a tender process, ask the Finance Ministry to conduct a due-diligence check, or require a formal contract.

If it had, officials would have learned that the company is no longer registered. Nor does it have a trade licence, public officers have confirmed.

Documents obtained from the Registry of Corporate Affairs show that the last and only time annual fees were paid for the firm was on Sept. 14, 2015 — the same date Kausina VI was incorporated.

It was formally struck off the list of registered companies for non-payment in May 2017.

Once a company has been struck from the register, its directors and members may not “carry on any business or in any way deal with the assets of the company,” according to the BVI Business Companies Act, 2004, though a regulator said recently that this clause is open to legal interpretation.

In a past interview, Mr. Parker described his firm’s lack of registration as an administrative issue.

Some logistical to-dos could have fallen by the wayside because the waste disposal project has “evolved so rapidly,” he said.

“I will have to inquire with my partner on that,” he said in late February. “I knew that we had some fees to be paid. I wasn’t sure what those all were.”

As of this Wednesday, however, Kausina VI was still not in good standing, according to a search at the Registry of Corporate Affairs.

Employees at the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs said in April and again on Tuesday that no trade licence has been issued for Kausina VI or for Mr. Parker, who has not responded to queries on the licensing matter.

HSD Minister Ronnie Skelton and Ms. Davies said in a February interview that they were unaware the company was unregistered.

“I don’t think that’s a major, major issue,” Mr. Skelton added. “It’s something that happens that people do for different reasons.”

Ms. Davies was also undeterred by Kausina’s lack of a trade licence.

“A trade licence is not required for the ‘cleanup’ operations (i.e. debris collection and processing) conducted by Kausina VI at no cost to the government,” she wrote in an e-mail in April, adding that the company would need to supply a current licence if government were to conduct “financial transactions or other business operations” with it.