Piles of debris litter St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Disposing of tons of roofing materials and vegetal debris is a significant challenge for the islands. Environmentalists oppose an Army Corps of Engineers plan to burn debris. Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount / The Washington Post

By Tim Craig
26 February 2018

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands (The Washington Post) – Even though he works at a dump, Kenneal Smith used to enjoy the coastal and mountain views offered from his guard shack here at the island’s largest landfill.

But after back-to-back hurricanes pinwheeled across the Virgin Islands in September, Smith feels like he’s buried under piles of sheared metal roofs, waterlogged appliances, and crumpled mango and bay rum trees that have been dropped off here.

“You used to actually be able to see over these banks,” said Smith, as he looked up at four-story debris piles lining the entrance to Bovoni landfill. “And the trucks just keep coming.”

Over the past 4 ½ months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local contractors have collected more than 736,000 cubic yards of debris — the equivalent of 61,000 truckloads — as they rush to clean up St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, the territory’s three major islands.

As the mountains of wreckage continue to grow, crowding landfills and littering roadsides, debate has raged over how to get rid of the detritus tarnishing the islands’ famous Caribbean landscapes.

A plan to burn the waste was squashed after residents protested over the potential health and environmental effects. Shipping the waste to the U.S. mainland is complicated by the threat of invasive species.

Other Caribbean nations don’t want it either. […]

For much of its history as a U.S. territory, the Virgin Islands has endured repeated environmental hazards, including underground landfill fires and pollution from the oil and rum industries.

Now, after enduring back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes, residents say they have an even better understanding of how fragile their natural environment is. While it took only a few weeks for leaves and flowers to blossom again, most of St. John’s cherished shallow-water coral reefs were damaged during the hurricanes and could take years to fully recover, according to the National Park Service. [more]

Hurricanes left behind mountains of trash in the Virgin Islands — and there’s nowhere to put it



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