Smoke rises from the compacted and covered garbage at the dumpsite. According to Mr. Solomon, as long as no fresh trash is laid over the smouldering waste, there is no cause for alarm. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)

Waste Management Director Marcus Solomon stood with his back to the non-operational incinerator December 14, watching a front-end loader scrape clean the dumpsite tipping area at Pockwood Pond.

He crossed his arms.

The previous Saturday, Mr. Solomon had stood watching that same tipping area, but it was on fire then — a level three, according to the Department of Waste Management’s new tri-level fire classification system.

The blaze was brought under control by the following evening, and the succeeding days were spent working to clear the remaining garbage, smouldering or not.

But the incident was only one of many challenges facing Mr. Solomon, who was appointed in July at a time when the territory is struggling with mounting waste management crises on Tortola and the sister islands.

To address such issues, Mr. Solomon has taken a multi-pronged approach. He has launched a series of meetings to educate the public about the trash problems and his plans to fix them. He has led the implementation of a new three-level fire-monitoring system at the Pockwood Pond dumpsite. He has travelled to the United States to visit the company contracted to provide replacement parts for the Pockwood Pond incinerator, which has been offline since a February 2022 fire.

But there is much more to do.

Following the Dec. 9 tipping area fire at the bottom of the dumpsite at Pockwood Pond, residents were asked to truck their waste to the top of the hill to alleviate stress on the temporary tipping area. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
‘Clean for a dumpsite’

December 14, Mr. Solomon watched the front-end loader continue its work, his grey polo shirt matching the ash above the tipping area where a mountain of trash used to tower.

He said he was proud of his team for what they’ve accomplished over the past few days.

“It’s clean for a dumpsite,” he added.

Much further up the mountainside, however, smoke emanated from multiple areas where trash has been buried in the absence of a functioning incinerator.

“We just refer to that as a below-surface fire,” Mr. Solomon said, looking up at that smoke.

Measuring on the scale of his three-level system, the current mountainside smouldering doesn’t even register as a level one fire.

But it is being closely monitored, he explained, noting that the columns of smoke have each been catalogued even though they’re not cause for immediate alarm.

He turned his head downward and pointed to a pile of recently tipped trash.

“A level one fire is like a matchstick fire,” Mr. Solomon explained. “If I put fire on that right now, we’ll call that a level one fire. That means it’s manageable. It’s a small quantity, so we can treat it in one to two hours. When we realise it’s going to go beyond two hours, we refer to it as monitoring.”

Even though there are no major fires at the dumpsite now, it’s possible to smell the burn from over a kilometre away in the east. When the wind shifts to the west, air sensors as far away as St. Thomas have detected the smouldering trash.

Mr. Solomon claimed the smoke coming from the mountainside is not unusual for dumpsites that are not engineered landfills.

“This is a dumpsite, so it has no liner at the bottom and those type of things,” he said.

Marcus Solomon, director of waste management, stands at the rear bay doors of the incinerator building, facing the tipping area that caught fire on Dec. 9. That blaze was quickly brought under control, but parts of the dump are still smouldering. (Photo: Rushton Skinner)
Incinerator parts update

The immediate solution to minimising the landfill dumping is repairing the incinerator, which has been cold since a fire in February 2022 damaged its control panel, central plumbing and electricity.

At the dumpsite last Thursday, Mr. Solomon offered a few updates concerning the whereabouts of the multiple parts needed to fire up the facility.

The ash conveyer system — one of the four parts on order from incinerator manufacturer Consutech Systems LLC — is “a few weeks behind,” he said.

The quench tank, heat exchanger and control panel are still on schedule, Mr. Solomon said, but the full complement of equipment needed to fix the incinerator is now expected to arrive by the end of next month.

The incinerator is expected to fire up at the end of the first quarter of 2024.

Previous delays

Since the incinerator was damaged in February 2022, various delays in the needed repairs have kept it offline.

Shortly after the fire, then-Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone said it would be repaired within 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 had been contracted to supply a replacement quench tank and ash conveyor, a heat exchanger, and three transfer arms.

On Oct. 23, three transfer arms were delivered to the dumpsite.

Because of the scope of the needed repairs, restorative works can begin only after the “full complement of equipment is on island,” Mr. Solomon said Nov. 24.

The roof of the building that houses the facility also will need to be removed and replaced, according to the director.