Premier Andrew Fahie, Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone and Third District Representative Julian Fraser sparred at the House of Assembly last Thursday over the delayed repairs to the Pockwood Pond incinerator.
Mr. Malone said he expects the broken incinerator to be fully repaired and operational by late September, and he reviewed the events that have occurred since a November 2018 fire left the facility non-functional.
Since then, trash has been landfilled on the mountainside behind it, frequently catching fire and sending smoke as far away as St. Thomas and St. John.
Mr. Malone said that in November 2018 incinerator manufacturer Consutech Systems LLC inspected the plant and presented three options for repairing the control panel system that was damaged in the fire.
After receiving quotations from three local electric companies, the government requested in December that the Ministry of Finance approve the necessary funding and “urgent” awarding of contracts to initiate the repairs.
In April 2019 government allotted funding in the 2019 budget estimates for the repairs, and Cabinet decided to waive the tender process and award contracts to Consutech for the control panel and to Skelton Electrics Ltd. for electrical repairs.
The contract with Skelton Electrics was signed in May, and the one with Consutech in June, and payments to both were received in July, he added.
In response, Mr. Fraser questioned why it took some five months to approve funding and eight months to sign a contract.
“How irresponsible can a government be, having the incinerator creating such a nuisance?” he asked, adding, “The premier knows because he’s been around. He knows that if you want to do something like that you go to Cabinet with a paper and get the funding for it. The financial secretary can’t tell you no. We did that in the past. When you have an emergency, that’s how you deal with it. You don’t sit back there and actually wait for tendering.”
Mr. Fahie then jumped in to respond, saying that problems with the incinerator have been going on for six years and that his government has only been in power for four months and has moved as quickly as possible to rectify the situation.
He later mentioned the scrubber, a device that would remove harmful materials from the incinerator’s emissions.
Though government ordered the scrubber from Consutech in 2015 and paid a $500,000 deposit, it has not been delivered.
The premier also referred to an “entity” that “seems not to care about the emergency” for the people of the Virgin Islands “whenever we go to look for those [tendering] waivers.”
“We have to fight that entity also to get this thing done,” he said. “So don’t make it sound like we’re sitting down doing nothing.”
Mr. Fahie did not identify the “entity,” but Mr. Fraser seemed to imply that the word referred to Governor Gus Jaspert, although Mr. Fahie quickly pointed out that he did not refer to a specific person.
“The governor should only be seen when necessary,” Mr. Fraser responded. “You run the country.”
Mr. Malone then pointed out in his response that given that most of the ministers were sworn in during March, April was “not bad for us in terms of getting it done.”
He went on to suggest that Mr. Fraser was unfamiliar with the lengthy process now required to approve such a contract since he had last been in Cabinet.
He added, “There are concerns in terms of the micromanagement that is actually taking place, of what the premier’s alluding to.”
Mr. Malone went on to address concerns from Mr. Fraser on the derelict vehicle site in Sea Cows Bay, in which dumped vehicles continue to accumulate even after the site was cleaned up about two months ago.
“The Department [of Waste Management] does not have adequate resources to guard the site and its surrounding properties against indiscriminate dumping,” the minister said.
He added that the HSD Ministry has entered into a “non-financial agreement” with a local scrap metal recycling company to transport the vehicles from Sea Cows Bay to a temporary staging site in Pockwood Pond, where they will be processed and shipped overseas to be recycled.
But Mr. Fraser responded that this arrangement did not present a “holistic” solution to the problem, and suggested
erecting signs and cameras, and ultimately prosecuting offenders, in order to prevent residents from dumping vehicles at the site.
Mr. Malone also said the HSD Ministry has replaced the windows at the Valerie O. Thomas Community Centre that received the most damage as “part of a refurbishment programme to strengthen the resilience of community centres.”
He added that the ministry has requested estimates to replace the remaining windows and expects them to be repaired by the fourth quarter of this year.