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BURN NOTICE: Mapp Warns Legislature That Only Governor Has The Authority To Call Off Debris Burn … No Matter What Their Law Says

WHO’LL GET BURNED? The manufacturer says that this incineration machine can be set on a city street and the street below the machine will not get hot as it burns tree, brush and shrubs from the storm.

ESTATE LONGFORD, St. Croix –– The Texas-based owner of the $400,000 “Air Burners” incinerator unit arrived this afternoon on St. Croix, the Virgin Islands Free Press had learned.

Sources close to the owner of the incineration machine, which is being leased to the United States government at an undisclosed price, say if the debris burn is completely blocked on St. Croix it will move to Road Town, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands for use there.

A secret test burn was conducted here in Estate Longford on December 13, according to someone who witnessed the two-hour event as it happened.

Pictures taken today by the V.I. Free Press show evidence of a burn has taken place there. People who work with the incinerator admitted that the machine was used last month to burn a small amount of debris so that air samples could be taken.

And witnesses who saw the burn from beginning to end said that “two large black plumes of smoke” for a brief period of time during the burning, which took place in a part of the South Shore that is mostly uninhabited.

The land the debris and incinerator rests on in Estate Longford is owned by former Assistant Health Commissioner Dr. Cora Christian, the V.I. Freep has learned. Hedge Funder Warren Mosler owns the land on either side of Christian’s.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp left open the possibility last week that the local government at least a portion of the tree and plant could still be burned despite a new law passed by the Virgin Islands Legislature that bans incineration of tree, shrub and bush material created by natural disasters.

Mapp has continued to say that at least 35 percent of the estimated 700,000 cubic yards of plant debris felled by Hurricanes Irma and Maria would have to be burned because the federal government will cover the costs of debris disposal until March 20.

Meanwhile, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) issued four burn permits at Estate Body Slob, St. Croix for the Mapp administration just hours before the Senate overrode the governor’s veto of the burn ban legislation.

While Mapp vetoed Senate Bill No. 32-0157, which blocks such burning in the interest of ecological and public health, senators voted to override that veto, making the burn ban territorial law.

Senate Vice President Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly said she is remaining one of several plaintiffs on a federal lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is seeking an injunction to block burning of plant debris.

“The governor, he intimated at some point that it didn’t matter what we did, he would still proceed with his plans. I’m not sure what action he will be taking,” Rivera-O’Reilly said.

Opponents of the burn say that they will go ahead with the federal lawsuit as long as the administration indicates that it intends to burn debris.

“The Legislature is within its prerogative to override any veto of the governor,” Mapp said. “The Senate’s action is within that purview. The issue that now confronts the people of the Virgin Islands is the management of the remaining 35 percent of the vegetative debris.”

People with the Army Corps of Engineers said they would not commence burning without the permits, according to a Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) press release.

Permits issued to government agencies for burning tree and plant debris are only accessible to territory residents who live on or can afford to travel to St. Croix, DPNR Commissioner Dawn Henry said.

Henry said in the release that she issued the permits for “air curtain incineration,” or burning of plant debris brought down by the recent hurricanes.

The “Air Burners” air curtain incinerator on St. Croix is completely portable and could be transported in minute to Estate Body Slob to begin burning debris.

DPNR issued the following permits to the government for Estate Body Slob on St. Croix:

• On Dec. 8, the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority was granted a Notice of Intent for Storm Water Discharge for 40 acres of land.

• On Dec. 19, the Department of Property and Procurement for land-clearing for 12 30- by 15- by 10-foot incineration pits.

• On Dec. 19, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers obtained an Air Pollution Control Program permit to construct 12 air curtain incineration pits.

• On Dec. 21 — the same day legislators voted to override Mapp’s veto — the Corps obtained an Air Pollution Control Program permit to operate 12 incineration pits.

No applications for permits were filed for air incineration operations on St. Thomas or St. John, according to the Government House press release.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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