Smith, Tangier islands are divided by 10 miles and how they handle trash

SMITH ISLAND — SMITH ISLAND -- In July, three Virginia men visited Smith Island, a Maryland fishing village and popular tourist destination in the Chesapeake Bay. But they weren't there to buy T-shirts and souvenirs.

They were on a mission to find out how Smith Island gets rid of its trash.


What they learned might help Tangier Island -- 10 miles due south of Smith and across the state line in Virginia -- as officials there work out a long-term plan to dispose of Tangier's trash, which now is either burned in the town's inefficient incinerator or dumped alongside an isolated road.

Getting rid of trash can be a dilemma for island communities. But Smith Island often is cited as a place that does it well, prompting the visit from two officials with the state Department of Environmental Quality and Arthur Fisher, administrator of Accomack County, which counts Tangier as one of its 14 incorporated towns.


Like Tangier, Smith Island has an incinerator that burns trash. The ash and pieces of trash that do not burn completely are dumped in trash cans, which are placed on work boats and taken to nearby Crisfield on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Large items that the incinerator can't burn also go to Crisfield.

A private contractor hired by Somerset County, which includes Smith Island, charges $58 per trip to take everything to Crisfield. "It works as good as anything can work on an island," says Charles Cavanaugh, director of the Office of Solid Waste for Somerset County.

Tangier officials say it's unfair to compare their island with Smith and assume Tangier should do what Smith has done.

The biggest difference between the two islands is that Smith is unincorporated. Therefore, Somerset County tax money pays to operate Smith's incinerator, transport ash and trash to Crisfield and bury it in a landfill.

"The county does it all for Smith Island," says Nina Pruitt, a Tangier council member. Since Tangier is an incorporated town, it must pay all disposal costs.

Ms. Pruitt says waste officials in Virginia expect Tangier officials to find someone willing to barge Tangier's trash to the Eastern Shore for about what Smith Island pays, $58 per trip per week. But Tangier, she says, is about twice as far from the Eastern Shore as Smith is from Crisfield. Tangier officials found a company willing to barge the island's trash for $1,000 per trip every three months -- the equivalent of about $77 per trip per week.

"That's close to what Smith Island pays, especially considering our barge would have to go farther than their work boat goes," Ms. Pruitt says.

What's more, she says, if state officials ask town officials to try to cut costs by finding a work boat rather than a barge to transport trash to the Eastern Shore, it will be difficult to find a Tangier waterman willing to do the hauling.


"We're not Smith Island," she adds. "We've got our own problems."