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HomeNewsArchivesJUDGE SEES SEWER SYSTEM FAILURES STILL UNFIXED

JUDGE SEES SEWER SYSTEM FAILURES STILL UNFIXED

After having ordered the Public Works Department more than two months ago to stop dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage a day into the sea off St. Croix, District Court Judge Thomas Moore personally toured the island’s ailing wastewater system Tuesday.
What he saw wasn’t encouraging: more discharges of untreated sewage into the environment and V.I. government facilities either on the brink of failure or already failed.
"Since I hadn’t had the joy of visiting the facilities . . . I thought it appropriate I take a tour," Moore said.
Before making the rounds, however, Moore heard from Public Works officials and Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Frankel, who is representing the fedearl Environmental Protection Agency, on how the department was doing in meeting his previous order.
In early February, Moore ordered Public Works to have the problem-plagued LBJ pumping station fully functional by Feb. 18, sewage bypasses at the Figtree station terminated by Feb. 16, and a broken sewer near the Melvin Evans Highway fixed by Mar. 17. The order also called for Public Works to hire an independent contractor to manage its treatment plant on a day-to-day basis until six months of compliance with all discharge limits have been achieved.
However, Public Works has complied with few of the mandates. In fact, the Figtree station has been out of commission since April 13, causing more than 1.5 million gallons of sewage a day to spill into Cane Garden Bay next to the Hovensa refinery.
"As we sit here today, we again have the situation of a bypass occurring" at Figtree, Frankel said. "Essentially, we’re no better off than when we appeared on [Feb. 11]."
Public Works officials blamed the Figtree bypass on the failure of the lone operating pump motor at the station and problems with paying a contractor for work done. Two other pumps, as required in the order, have not been installed.
Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. said it could be six to eight weeks before the Figtree station has its full complement of pumps and is fully operational.
Frankel's assessment was: "We hear various reasons for problems with the pumps. The bottom line is, we don’t think the station is being properly operated. As a result of that, you’ve got 1.7 million gallons a day of sewage going into the sea."
Meanwhile, a temporary pump is in place at the LBJ station to handle sewage flows while contractors work to replace worn-out valves in the 28-year-old facility. Thompson said Public Works had no specific date for the start-up of the station. He said the auxiliary pump was capable of handling sewage from Christiansted but only if Mother Nature cooperates.
If the pump fails, sewage backs up in Christiansted and also must be discharged into the sea beyond Long Reef. "As long as we don’t have any rain," Thompson said, the system "can handle that capacity."
However, EPA enforcement officer Pedro Modesto said, even with the pump, peak flows cause discharges of up to 50,000 gallons a day.
Also still unrepaired is the sewer line break near the intersection of the Melvin Evans Highway and East Airport Road. Two months ago, that break was spilling between 100 and 150 million gallons a day of sewage into the environment, Modesto said. "Here we are on April 25, and it’s not done," he said.
Thompson said it could be three weeks before the break is repaired, but added that even that projection "may be optimistic."
Even if the pumping stations were fully operational and the line breaks were mended, the V.I. government’s wastewater treatment plant near the Anguilla Landfill still couldn’t treat sewage according to its operating permit. In a Jan. 28 inspection of the plant, Modesto said he found a facility unable to meet federal discharge requirements. He said that in 41 of the 45 months from January 1996 to September 1999, the wastewater plant was in violation of one or more discharge requirements.
"The St. Croix wastewater treatment plant is almost completely non-operational," 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."
On the tour Tuesday, not much had changed. According to a previous consent decree between the V.I. government and the EPA, 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 straight months.
Thompson said he doesn't know how to pay for an independent contractor, yet to be hired. He said the government’s Sewer Fund is depleted and federal authorities have not agreed to a proposal to cover the cost using fines levied against the department four years ago.
While the Public Finance Authority is managing $2 million from the V.I. government’s recent $300 million bond issue for miscellaneous wastewater system repairs, the money cannot be spent on operational costs, he said.
"I can’t give a firm answer, because I have to depend on other agencies," Thompson said. "Normally, we use the Sewer Fund."
Moore also said Public Works wasn’t complying with the part of his order calling for weekly status reports. He said the last one he received was almost a month ago.
"By the end of the week, I expect all the reports to be up to date," the judge said. "This aspect of it is not anything new, nor does it require extraordinary efforts to get money. There really is no excuse for not complying with it."
Moore added, "I don’t understand the priorities of the government. This is the health of the community we are talking about."
By the time Moore finished the tour of the Public Works facilities, it was late in the afternoon and he hadn’t made a decision on whether to modify the February order.

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After having ordered the Public Works Department more than two months ago to stop dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage a day into the sea off St. Croix, District Court Judge Thomas Moore personally toured the island’s ailing wastewater system Tuesday.
What he saw wasn’t encouraging: more discharges of untreated sewage into the environment and V.I. government facilities either on the brink of failure or already failed.
"Since I hadn’t had the joy of visiting the facilities . . . I thought it appropriate I take a tour," Moore said.
Before making the rounds, however, Moore heard from Public Works officials and Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Frankel, who is representing the fedearl Environmental Protection Agency, on how the department was doing in meeting his previous order.
In early February, Moore ordered Public Works to have the problem-plagued LBJ pumping station fully functional by Feb. 18, sewage bypasses at the Figtree station terminated by Feb. 16, and a broken sewer near the Melvin Evans Highway fixed by Mar. 17. The order also called for Public Works to hire an independent contractor to manage its treatment plant on a day-to-day basis until six months of compliance with all discharge limits have been achieved.
However, Public Works has complied with few of the mandates. In fact, the Figtree station has been out of commission since April 13, causing more than 1.5 million gallons of sewage a day to spill into Cane Garden Bay next to the Hovensa refinery.
"As we sit here today, we again have the situation of a bypass occurring" at Figtree, Frankel said. "Essentially, we’re no better off than when we appeared on [Feb. 11]."
Public Works officials blamed the Figtree bypass on the failure of the lone operating pump motor at the station and problems with paying a contractor for work done. Two other pumps, as required in the order, have not been installed.
Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. said it could be six to eight weeks before the Figtree station has its full complement of pumps and is fully operational.
Frankel's assessment was: "We hear various reasons for problems with the pumps. The bottom line is, we don’t think the station is being properly operated. As a result of that, you’ve got 1.7 million gallons a day of sewage going into the sea."
Meanwhile, a temporary pump is in place at the LBJ station to handle sewage flows while contractors work to replace worn-out valves in the 28-year-old facility. Thompson said Public Works had no specific date for the start-up of the station. He said the auxiliary pump was capable of handling sewage from Christiansted but only if Mother Nature cooperates.
If the pump fails, sewage backs up in Christiansted and also must be discharged into the sea beyond Long Reef. "As long as we don’t have any rain," Thompson said, the system "can handle that capacity."
However, EPA enforcement officer Pedro Modesto said, even with the pump, peak flows cause discharges of up to 50,000 gallons a day.
Also still unrepaired is the sewer line break near the intersection of the Melvin Evans Highway and East Airport Road. Two months ago, that break was spilling between 100 and 150 million gallons a day of sewage into the environment, Modesto said. "Here we are on April 25, and it’s not done," he said.
Thompson said it could be three weeks before the break is repaired, but added that even that projection "may be optimistic."
Even if the pumping stations were fully operational and the line breaks were mended, the V.I. government’s wastewater treatment plant near the Anguilla Landfill still couldn’t treat sewage according to its operating permit. In a Jan. 28 inspection of the plant, Modesto said he found a facility unable to meet federal discharge requirements. He said that in 41 of the 45 months from January 1996 to September 1999, the wastewater plant was in violation of one or more discharge requirements.
"The St. Croix wastewater treatment plant is almost completely non-operational," 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."
On the tour Tuesday, not much had changed. According to a previous consent decree between the V.I. government and the EPA, 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 straight months.
Thompson said he doesn't know how to pay for an independent contractor, yet to be hired. He said the government’s Sewer Fund is depleted and federal authorities have not agreed to a proposal to cover the cost using fines levied against the department four years ago.
While the Public Finance Authority is managing $2 million from the V.I. government’s recent $300 million bond issue for miscellaneous wastewater system repairs, the money cannot be spent on operational costs, he said.
"I can’t give a firm answer, because I have to depend on other agencies," Thompson said. "Normally, we use the Sewer Fund."
Moore also said Public Works wasn’t complying with the part of his order calling for weekly status reports. He said the last one he received was almost a month ago.
"By the end of the week, I expect all the reports to be up to date," the judge said. "This aspect of it is not anything new, nor does it require extraordinary efforts to get money. There really is no excuse for not complying with it."
Moore added, "I don’t understand the priorities of the government. This is the health of the community we are talking about."
By the time Moore finished the tour of the Public Works facilities, it was late in the afternoon and he hadn’t made a decision on whether to modify the February order.