83.9 F
Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 26, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesJUDGE: FIX SEWAGE SYSTEM OR FACE CHARGES

JUDGE: FIX SEWAGE SYSTEM OR FACE CHARGES

District Court Judge Thomas Moore delivered a strong warning to the V.I. government Wednesday concerning its sewage system on St. Croix: Fix it or face contempt of court charges, fines and incarceration.
"I don’t want to make those threats," Moore told Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. in a status hearing, "and I don’t make them idly. But we’re dealing with very serious matters."
On Tuesday, Moore toured problem areas of the island’s wastewater system — the LBJ and Figtree pump stations, a ruptured sewer line near the Melvin Evans Highway and the almost-inoperable wastewater treatment plant near the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport. He also saw first hand some of the 1.7 million gallons of raw sewage a day that is being bypassed at the Figtree station and flowing directly into the sea.
He also toured the dilapidated wastewater treatment plant that, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, actually discharges dirtier water than what is taken in from the sewage system.
"As far as I can tell, there has been little progress made with the wastewater treatment plant in the last 16 years," Moore said. "Having seen it yesterday, I don’t understand why the [plant] is not operating. It appears to me that it would be the easiest thing in the whole system to renovate."
Moore told Thompson that as Public Works commissioner he is in the "hot seat." But the judge added that other key players in the Turnbull administration need to be involved in finding solutions. The federal court doesn’t have the authority to appropriate funds, Moore said, so it is up to the administration to find money to fix the myriad of problems that date back to a 1996 consent decree between the federal and local governments.
"It’s gone on too long. I’ve been as patient as possible," Moore said. He told Thompson that he and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull "are reaping the consequences of neglect of many, many years."
In court Wednesday, Moore, Public Works officials and Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Frankel hashed out tentative dates for the completion of repairs spelled out in an order Moore issued in February. Moore, the St. Thomas/St. John-based District Court judge, is hearing the case because he originaly presided over the consent decree. He said he would take the information he has heard over the last two days and issue an order on Friday setting out a definitive timetable in which the wastewater system must be operational.
"If these dates aren’t met, there will be very, very serious consequences" including fines and incarceration, he said.
While Public Works can utilize a $2 million wastewater account funded with bond proceeds for capital improvement projects, it can’t use the money to cover operational expenses. That is a major hurdle, Thompson said, because part of Moore’s February order calls for Public Works to hire an independent contractor to operate not only the treatment plant on St. Croix but several on St. Thomas. There is no money to pay for such a contract, which would be for at least a year, he said.
Thompson said that normally such costs would be covered by the Sewer Fund, which is funded by sewer use fees and property taxes. But that fund is already $2 million in the red, he said.
"Operating expenses is one of my biggest worries now," Thompson said in a subsequent interview. "I’ve got to overcome these obstacles to take care of pressing operation needs that won’t go away." Finding the necessary funding "won’t be easy, but it is critical," he added.
Public Works had proposed to use fines paid by the V.I. government under the consent decree in 1996. Under an agreement, the territory ultimately paid $400,000 in penalties and deposited another $1.1 million in a trust fund for wastewater system repairs. But according to Frankel, that money has been spent.
The parties are now negotiating penalty amounts for consent decree violations for 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Meanwhile, as millions of gallons of sewage continue to flow into the sea around St. Croix, Moore said he won’t allow Public Works to blow any more deadlines. To change dates, he said Public Works would have to file written motions in court. "Changes will have to be fairly extraordinary," he said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,722FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more
District Court Judge Thomas Moore delivered a strong warning to the V.I. government Wednesday concerning its sewage system on St. Croix: Fix it or face contempt of court charges, fines and incarceration.
"I don’t want to make those threats," Moore told Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. in a status hearing, "and I don’t make them idly. But we’re dealing with very serious matters."
On Tuesday, Moore toured problem areas of the island’s wastewater system -- the LBJ and Figtree pump stations, a ruptured sewer line near the Melvin Evans Highway and the almost-inoperable wastewater treatment plant near the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport. He also saw first hand some of the 1.7 million gallons of raw sewage a day that is being bypassed at the Figtree station and flowing directly into the sea.
He also toured the dilapidated wastewater treatment plant that, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, actually discharges dirtier water than what is taken in from the sewage system.
"As far as I can tell, there has been little progress made with the wastewater treatment plant in the last 16 years," Moore said. "Having seen it yesterday, I don’t understand why the [plant] is not operating. It appears to me that it would be the easiest thing in the whole system to renovate."
Moore told Thompson that as Public Works commissioner he is in the "hot seat." But the judge added that other key players in the Turnbull administration need to be involved in finding solutions. The federal court doesn’t have the authority to appropriate funds, Moore said, so it is up to the administration to find money to fix the myriad of problems that date back to a 1996 consent decree between the federal and local governments.
"It’s gone on too long. I’ve been as patient as possible," Moore said. He told Thompson that he and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull "are reaping the consequences of neglect of many, many years."
In court Wednesday, Moore, Public Works officials and Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Frankel hashed out tentative dates for the completion of repairs spelled out in an order Moore issued in February. Moore, the St. Thomas/St. John-based District Court judge, is hearing the case because he originaly presided over the consent decree. He said he would take the information he has heard over the last two days and issue an order on Friday setting out a definitive timetable in which the wastewater system must be operational.
"If these dates aren’t met, there will be very, very serious consequences" including fines and incarceration, he said.
While Public Works can utilize a $2 million wastewater account funded with bond proceeds for capital improvement projects, it can’t use the money to cover operational expenses. That is a major hurdle, Thompson said, because part of Moore’s February order calls for Public Works to hire an independent contractor to operate not only the treatment plant on St. Croix but several on St. Thomas. There is no money to pay for such a contract, which would be for at least a year, he said.
Thompson said that normally such costs would be covered by the Sewer Fund, which is funded by sewer use fees and property taxes. But that fund is already $2 million in the red, he said.
"Operating expenses is one of my biggest worries now," Thompson said in a subsequent interview. "I’ve got to overcome these obstacles to take care of pressing operation needs that won’t go away." Finding the necessary funding "won’t be easy, but it is critical," he added.
Public Works had proposed to use fines paid by the V.I. government under the consent decree in 1996. Under an agreement, the territory ultimately paid $400,000 in penalties and deposited another $1.1 million in a trust fund for wastewater system repairs. But according to Frankel, that money has been spent.
The parties are now negotiating penalty amounts for consent decree violations for 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Meanwhile, as millions of gallons of sewage continue to flow into the sea around St. Croix, Moore said he won’t allow Public Works to blow any more deadlines. To change dates, he said Public Works would have to file written motions in court. "Changes will have to be fairly extraordinary," he said.