US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association

Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp said he will not allow the people of the Virgin Islands to be saddled with the expense of hurricane debris removal when the federal government is willing to cover the costs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for all debris removal and disposal until March 20, 2018. The Virgin Islands government will be responsible for the expense of all debris not disposed of by that date.

“The majority of this vegetative waste will be mulched and composted,” Mapp said. “But in light of the March 20 deadline, we must leave all options for debris disposal on the table.”

Mapp, who sponsored the initiative to ban plastic bags and has pushed for mandatory recycling and other policies designed to protect public health and the environment, said he made the decision to allow for up to 35 percent of hurricane debris to be incinerated on the recommendation of the Joint Debris Task Force, which includes FEMA, the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority. The task force reviewed three methods of reducing vegetative debris: territory-wide composting, mulching and air curtain incineration (ACI).

It’s estimated that more than 700,000 cubic yards of vegetative waste was created as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Experts have described its disposal as a massive undertaking.

“Without some incineration, we are unlikely to meet the deadline,” the governor said. “I am attempting to make a reasoned decision and remain very concerned about the environment and about the lives and health of the people of the Virgin Islands.”

ACI uses a blower and pit that is constructed above ground, creating a system which traps smoke and particles under an air curtain, resulting in an efficient and clean burn, reducing the debris amount by up to 98 percent. The EPA will continually test air quality during the ACI process, which will be managed and overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

FEMA reports that air curtain burners were used to reduce storm debris after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Superstorm Sandy, and are also regularly used by the U.S. Fire Service to reduce vegetative material.

The governor said no large pieces of tropical hardwood, such as mahogany, will be composted or incinerated. The Department of Agriculture has been working to separate this wood, which will eventually be made available to the public.

Mapp and his advisors have described the recent legislation intending to ban any incineration as problematic. Bill No. 32-0157, approved last week by senators, calls for a ban on the burning of all fallen trees and vegetative debris generated as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“One of the major issues is that the Legislature has deemed that private persons, including companies, can still get a permit and burn debris without any concerns about air quality or monitoring,” the governor said.

Electronic waste, metals and white waste (appliances) will be exported from the territory, the governor confirmed.