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HomeNewsArchivesJUDGE SAYS NO MORE EXCUSES FOR SEWAGE SYSTEM

JUDGE SAYS NO MORE EXCUSES FOR SEWAGE SYSTEM

Likening the V.I. government’s problem-plagued sewer system on St. Croix to a "gaping wound," a federal judge Friday again threatened contempt-of-court charges against administration officials if massive sewage discharges aren’t stopped.
As part of a draft order that sets out deadlines for the Public Works Department to fix the waste water system, District Court Judge Thomas Moore said that he has "simply had enough" of the myriad of problems, including government inaction and ongoing discharges of 1.7 million gallons of raw sewage a day into the Caribbean Sea.
Once deadlines are agreed upon by Public Works and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Moore said, it will take "extraordinary" circumstances for them to be altered. In a memorandum Friday, Moore echoed what he had said earlier in the week after personally observing sewage flowing into the sea from a Public Works pump station: Stop it or else.
The failure of the government to comply with the deadlines "will result in contempt hearings before this court, with incarceration as a possible penalty for the appropriate officials whose actions or lack of action are found to have impeded the progress of these critical repairs," Moore wrote.
Many of the problems with the territory’s waste water system date back to 1984, when the local and federal governments entered into a consent decree. In 1996, when problems were again addressed, the consent decree was amended. But because of the ongoing illegal discharges on St. Croix, Moore issued yet another order this past February setting specific dates for Public Works to make repairs.
For the most part, those dates were missed. Continuing problems at the Figtree pump station just east of the Hovensa refinery are allowing millions of gallons of raw sewage a day to be discharged into the sea.
Moore acknowledged Gov. Charles Turnbull’s recent emergency declaration aimed at speeding repairs to the waste water system and Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson’s difficulties in securing funding as factors in dealing with the problems. But, he said, a "Band-Aid on the gaping wound that is the St. Croix wastewater treatment system is not in the best interest of our community."
The judge noted that the Turnbull administration "inherited" a problem not of its making.
"Although the court does not question Commissioner Thompson’s dedication to solving the serious danger these bypasses pose to the health of the citizens of and visitors to the Virgin Islands," he said, "the repeated failure of the government to comply with orders of this court will no longer be tolerated as hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage are illegally discharged daily into the Caribbean Sea."
On Friday, Moore issued an order and a draft order. The order calls for Public Works to, among other things, repair a broken sewer line near East Airport Road and the Melvin Evans Highway by June 1. The break has been sending sewage into a nearby gut and then into the sea since November.
Moore’s February order called for Public Works to hire an independent contractor to operate the waste water treatment plant next to the Anguilla landfill because the facility hasn’t met federal discharge requirements for months. Thompson, however, has said Public Works doesn’t have the money to hire a contractor because the Sewer Fund, comprising user fees and property taxes, is $2 million in the red.
Friday’s order calls for Public Works to identify a source of funding by May 31. While the department has a $2 million bond-funded miscellaneous waste water account to use for capital improvements, that money can’t be used to cover operational expenses, according to Thompson.
Moore has ordered that bypassing of the Figtree pump station be stopped by May 8. He also laid out by which the installation of pumps and other crucial equipment must take place.
In the draft order, Moore set proposed deadlines that either the federal or the local government can agree or disagree with by filing briefs. He has set May 19 as the date for the deadline order.
After that, unless changes are made, the Figtree station must be fully operational with its full complement of pumps, back-up power and other equipment by June 30. By the same date, the LBJ station must have a number of fixes in place, including having all three of its pumps in operation.
Moore also called for a series of repairs to the waste water treatment plant so it can receive and treat inflows, the latest date for these being June 16.
Meanwhile, Thompson said Friday that his department is "moving as quickly as possible to address the problems plaguing" the sewage system. He said the parts needed to repair the Figtree station are expected to arrive from England early next week. Until the repairs are made, he said, the public is asked to "refrain from marine activities in the vicinity of Cane Garden Bay."
Thompson also said that, by using a temporary pump at the LBJ station, sewage discharges over Long Reef have been stopped. Moore, however, noted that during peak hours or during heavy rains, the pump cannot handle flows and some discharges still occur.
Moore said that the plan and its "firm deadlines" will "remedy long-standing systemic flaws" and put into place a system for St. Croix that will comply with the federal Clean Water Act and the consent decree of 1996 — "if properly maintained."
Once final deadlines are agreed upon, he emphasized, he will no longer accept excuses, and failure to comply will result in contempt hearings, with possible penalties ranging from fines to jail terms.
"The court has reluctantly come to this position after concluding that there is no other alternative," Moore wrote. "This case has been pending for 16 years with little or no change in the overall condition of the waste water treatment system, at least on St. Croix.
"The court has simply had enough. The fouling of the Virgin Islands’ beautiful waters from the continual discharge of raw sewage must simply stop, and those responsible for any delay must be held accountable."

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Likening the V.I. government’s problem-plagued sewer system on St. Croix to a "gaping wound," a federal judge Friday again threatened contempt-of-court charges against administration officials if massive sewage discharges aren’t stopped.
As part of a draft order that sets out deadlines for the Public Works Department to fix the waste water system, District Court Judge Thomas Moore said that he has "simply had enough" of the myriad of problems, including government inaction and ongoing discharges of 1.7 million gallons of raw sewage a day into the Caribbean Sea.
Once deadlines are agreed upon by Public Works and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Moore said, it will take "extraordinary" circumstances for them to be altered. In a memorandum Friday, Moore echoed what he had said earlier in the week after personally observing sewage flowing into the sea from a Public Works pump station: Stop it or else.
The failure of the government to comply with the deadlines "will result in contempt hearings before this court, with incarceration as a possible penalty for the appropriate officials whose actions or lack of action are found to have impeded the progress of these critical repairs," Moore wrote.
Many of the problems with the territory’s waste water system date back to 1984, when the local and federal governments entered into a consent decree. In 1996, when problems were again addressed, the consent decree was amended. But because of the ongoing illegal discharges on St. Croix, Moore issued yet another order this past February setting specific dates for Public Works to make repairs.
For the most part, those dates were missed. Continuing problems at the Figtree pump station just east of the Hovensa refinery are allowing millions of gallons of raw sewage a day to be discharged into the sea.
Moore acknowledged Gov. Charles Turnbull’s recent emergency declaration aimed at speeding repairs to the waste water system and Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson’s difficulties in securing funding as factors in dealing with the problems. But, he said, a "Band-Aid on the gaping wound that is the St. Croix wastewater treatment system is not in the best interest of our community."
The judge noted that the Turnbull administration "inherited" a problem not of its making.
"Although the court does not question Commissioner Thompson’s dedication to solving the serious danger these bypasses pose to the health of the citizens of and visitors to the Virgin Islands," he said, "the repeated failure of the government to comply with orders of this court will no longer be tolerated as hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage are illegally discharged daily into the Caribbean Sea."
On Friday, Moore issued an order and a draft order. The order calls for Public Works to, among other things, repair a broken sewer line near East Airport Road and the Melvin Evans Highway by June 1. The break has been sending sewage into a nearby gut and then into the sea since November.
Moore’s February order called for Public Works to hire an independent contractor to operate the waste water treatment plant next to the Anguilla landfill because the facility hasn’t met federal discharge requirements for months. Thompson, however, has said Public Works doesn’t have the money to hire a contractor because the Sewer Fund, comprising user fees and property taxes, is $2 million in the red.
Friday’s order calls for Public Works to identify a source of funding by May 31. While the department has a $2 million bond-funded miscellaneous waste water account to use for capital improvements, that money can’t be used to cover operational expenses, according to Thompson.
Moore has ordered that bypassing of the Figtree pump station be stopped by May 8. He also laid out by which the installation of pumps and other crucial equipment must take place.
In the draft order, Moore set proposed deadlines that either the federal or the local government can agree or disagree with by filing briefs. He has set May 19 as the date for the deadline order.
After that, unless changes are made, the Figtree station must be fully operational with its full complement of pumps, back-up power and other equipment by June 30. By the same date, the LBJ station must have a number of fixes in place, including having all three of its pumps in operation.
Moore also called for a series of repairs to the waste water treatment plant so it can receive and treat inflows, the latest date for these being June 16.
Meanwhile, Thompson said Friday that his department is "moving as quickly as possible to address the problems plaguing" the sewage system. He said the parts needed to repair the Figtree station are expected to arrive from England early next week. Until the repairs are made, he said, the public is asked to "refrain from marine activities in the vicinity of Cane Garden Bay."
Thompson also said that, by using a temporary pump at the LBJ station, sewage discharges over Long Reef have been stopped. Moore, however, noted that during peak hours or during heavy rains, the pump cannot handle flows and some discharges still occur.
Moore said that the plan and its "firm deadlines" will "remedy long-standing systemic flaws" and put into place a system for St. Croix that will comply with the federal Clean Water Act and the consent decree of 1996 -- "if properly maintained."
Once final deadlines are agreed upon, he emphasized, he will no longer accept excuses, and failure to comply will result in contempt hearings, with possible penalties ranging from fines to jail terms.
"The court has reluctantly come to this position after concluding that there is no other alternative," Moore wrote. "This case has been pending for 16 years with little or no change in the overall condition of the waste water treatment system, at least on St. Croix.
"The court has simply had enough. The fouling of the Virgin Islands’ beautiful waters from the continual discharge of raw sewage must simply stop, and those responsible for any delay must be held accountable."