Even though 70 percent of St. Croix's sewage isn't making it to the island's lone wastewater treatment plant for processing, it probably wouldn't matter if it did, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA last week filed an emergency motion in District Court to have Judge Thomas Moore order the Department of Public Works to stop discharging 1.7 million gallons a day of raw sewage into the waters off St. Croix. On Friday, Moore ordered DPW to have the problem-plagued LBJ pump station back on line in a "fully functional operational mode" by Feb. 18, sewage bypasses at the Figtree station "terminated" by Feb. 16, and a broken sewer line in Estate Bethlehem fixed by Mar. 17.
Moore also ordered Public Works to hire a private contractor to operate the department's 2.4 million-gallon-a-day wastewater treatment plant until it can clean incoming sewage thoroughly enough to discharge it into the sea.
The problems at LBJ and Figtree, which began in August and November respectively, have caused more than 225 million gallons of "raw, untreated sewage" to flow into the Caribbean Sea, according to Pedro Modesto, an EPA enforcement officer.
"The two bypasses involve about 70 percent of the sewage that is supposed to be treated and discharged at the St. Croix Wastewater Treatment Plant," Modesto said in court documents.
But Modesto said that even if the sewage could get to the treatment plant through the Public Works system, it would end up in a plant that is virtually useless. In a Jan. 28 inspection of the plant, located near the east end of the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, Modesto said he found a facility unable to meet federal discharge requirements.
And those requirements had actually been lessened after Public Works signed a consent decree with the federal government in 1995 to improve its wastewater system.
"The St. Croix Wastewater Treatment Plant is almost completely nonoperational," Modesto said. "In effect, it appears that the plant is currently unable to provide significant treatment. Moreover, DPW, during the past nine months, has failed to even maintain the regulated water quality parameters at the plant…"
Modesto said that in 41 of the 45 months from January 1996 to September 1999, the wastewater plant has been in violation of one or more discharge requirements. He said Public Works had "simply failed" to monitor several aspects of the plant's discharge.
The consent decree stipulates that if Public Works violates discharge limits for four consecutive months, it must hire a private contractor to operate the plant until it has been in compliance for six months in a row.
"Clearly, the St. Croix Wastewater Treatment Plant is not being properly operated or maintained," Modesto said. "Finally, the failure to have a contractor in place is a violation of . . . the amended consent decree. In summary, the St. Croix Wastewater Treatment Plant is being operated in violation of" federal law.
Along with the fixes at the pump station, Moore's order calls for Public Works to hire an independent contractor to manage the treatment plant on a day-to-day basis until six months of compliance with all discharge limits have been achieved.
On Monday, Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson said he hadn't seen Moore's order and therefore couldn't comment. When told of the requirement to hire a contractor to operate the treatment plant, Thompson said he wasn't sure how such a mandate could be funded.
Modesto also noted that the coliform bacteria level in recreational water near the sewage bypasses was high on several occasions. The maximum level for Class C, or recreational, water is 200 colonies per 100 millileter.
Some samples, he said, showed levels with more than 200,000 colonies , or over 1,000 times the maximum.

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