As waste crises plague the territory’s two most populated islands, government is working to complete long-delayed repairs to the Tortola incinerator and to bring Virgin Gorda a safer landfill, according to Department of Waste Management Director Marcus Solomon. But Mr. Solomon cautioned that neither solution will come this year.
Tortola’s incinerator, which hasn’t operated since a fire knocked it offline in February 2022, recently received some of the new parts it needs, but it won’t operate until after the first quarter of 2024, Mr. Solomon said. And plans to fully modernise the VG landfill — which smouldered for several days after a major fire in July — are still in the request-for-proposal stage.
The incinerator repairs have been long delayed already.
After the facility caught fire in February 2022, then-Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone said it would be offline for two to four months.
In March 2022, two to four months became six. Four months later, at a House of Assembly meeting, Mr. Malone’s successor Marlon Penn said he expected the incinerator to be repaired by the end of 2022.
During that HOA meeting, Mr. Penn also announced that Consutech Systems — the United States firm that manufactured the incinerator — had been contracted to supply a replacement quench tank and ash conveyor, a heat exchanger, and three transfer arms.
Though he said that he had spoken to Consutech’s president about expediting these shipments, he also cautioned that fabricating, shipping and installing the new parts could take months, especially in light of supply-chain disruptions.
The transfer arms were delivered Oct. 23 to Pockwood Pond, but the ash conveyer, heat exchanger and quench tank — along with a needed control panel — have yet to arrive, Mr. Solomon told the Beacon in a Friday interview.
Because of the scope of the needed repairs, restorative works will begin only after the “full complement of equipment is on island,” he added.
The four additional pieces of equipment are expected to arrive in December, he said.
“In order for us to remove the damaged parts to the incinerator, we need the roof taken off,” Mr. Solomon said. “There has to be a coordinated effort.”
In addition to roof removal, electrical lines and plumbing need to be refurbished or replaced, according to the director.
“A fire occurred on that particular site. Therefore, the site has to be rendered safe again, and certainly the infrastructure has to be corrected,” he said, adding, “I just want to balance persons’ expectations as I try to balance them in my own team here.”
Continuing with Consutech
The arrival of the control arms comes in the wake of Mr. Solomon’s September trip to Virginia to visit Consutech representatives following months of delays.
After returning to the territory, Mr. Solomon called the trip “beneficial” and said he felt confident that the relationship between Consutech and the VI government had changed for the better.
“We have set guidelines for shipping, set new timelines, implemented a process that accounts for progress and delays, as well as implementing penalties which include termination of the said contracts,” he said in a Sept. 25 press release.
Asked Friday about his trip to Virginia, Mr. Solomon maintained his optimism about Consutech’s ability to follow through with its contractual agreements.
“It’s our expectation that the company will deliver those parts in December or thereabouts,” Mr. Solomon said, adding, “The company will provide my office every two weeks with a report evidenced by photographs of progress.”
Asked if Consutech had been successful in continuing to provide those bi-weekly updates, Mr. Solomon admitted that the company had been late “from time to time,” but he said it was responsive after receiving a “first notice” from his office.
Asked in a follow-up email how much the territory is paying Consutech for the parts, Mr. Solomon didn’t answer directly.
“There exists a contract between Consutech and us, and all parties are working to ensure each party fulfils their contractual obligations,” he wrote.
Not included in Mr. Solomon’s September meetings with Consutech was an update on the exhaust scrubber meant to remove harmful particles from the incinerator’s fumes.
“I went [to Virginia] to deal with the items that [were] meant to try to at least get the incinerator functional again,” Mr. Solomon said. “At some point in time, if required, I can have conversations around [the scrubber] and see if we can also, in a way, move that forward.”
In 2015, government signed a roughly $1 million contract with Consutech to manufacture the scrubber, and it has already paid the company at least $500,000, government officials have said.
Plans are also under way to address a separate trash crisis in VG, according to Mr. Solomon.
In the evening of July 29, smoke was reported emanating from the dumpsite on the island. By 3 a.m. the next morning, a major fire had broken out, necessitating immediate assistance from water trucks on the island.
The incident was not a first: Other major fires have broken out at the dumpsite in recent years as well.
Request for proposals
On Oct. 30, a request for proposal was issued as part of efforts to reform VG’s waste management system from the ground up.
Mr. Solomon described a planned three-pronged approach.
“The RFP went out there seeking a player who can help design a materials recovery facility that will allow us to now treat the garbage or the waste coming in as materials,” Mr. Solomon said.
The requested facility would redirect 70 to 85 percent of VG’s waste, leaving the other 15 percent disposed in a new, sanitary landfill, he explained. In addition, Mr. Solomon said the RFP asks that interested parties also design a water stabilisation pond for human waste, which is currently being dumped raw in the unlined VG dumpsite.
“It could’ve gone the way of a wastewater treatment solution,” Mr. Solomon said. “But looking at the quantum and the costs, we took the route of wastewater stabilisation pond.”
As work continues on both islands, Mr. Solomon urged residents to “reduce consumption, re-use, re-purpose and recycle where possible,” according to a Nov. 22 press release announcing the arrival of the incinerator control arms.
To limit fires at the Pockwood Pond dumpsite, the public is “also asked to refrain from putting flares, gas tanks, empty AC gas canisters and other flammable and combustible items into the garbage stream,” the release stated.
For information on how to dispose of such materials, contact the Department of Waste Management at 468-4934.