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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, May 17, 2024


The Turnbull administration’s top money managers told a federal judge Thursday that there is sufficient funding available for the Department of Public Works to make ordered repairs to the troubled sewage system on St. Croix.
But in light of the problems Public Works has been having over the past eight months to meet fixes set out in District Court Judge Thomas Moore’s February order, federal prosecutors left the hearing somewhat perplexed.
Donald Frankel, an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Section who is representing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cited testimony given at the hearing by Commissioner of Finance Bernice Turnbull and Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills. In sworn testimony, the two Cabinet members said checks to contractors working for Public Works have not been delayed and that there is money available to make the estimated $1.5 million worth of repairs so that the St. Croix system complies with the 15-year-old federal consent decree that Moore now oversees.
"But the bottom line is when we . . . look at what’s happening in the field. We still have significant problems," Frankel said.
Over the past several months, Public Works officials have said one reason repairs have taken so long is that contractors have refused to work until they are paid for previous services.
V.I. officials said at Thursday’s hearing, held on St. Thomas, that any delayed payments were caused by contractors omitting documents or that they were working without a contract and that arrearages had been made up. But Frankel said that didn’t fully explain why some 140 million gallons of raw sewage had been discharged into the sea off St. Croix between February and the present. Or why during that same period there were only 30 days when Public Works didn’t discharge and its wastewater treatment plant was operational.
"That’s where we are, and that really is the [EPA’s]concern," Frankel said. "The agency doesn’t want the pattern to continue."
Moore, however, seemed to be caught between sanctioning Public Works and commending those in the department who have recently begun to bring the discharges under control.
He called efforts to repair the now operational LBJ Pump Station a "success story" and rhetorically asked Frankel for suggestions on what he would do.
Moore called monetary sanctions "self-defeating," especially in light of the circumstances. He said progress has been made, but then scolded the government for dragging its feet in making repairs over the years. The hours spent in court, he said, was a "big waste of time."
"The history of this litigation – this is a 1984 case – is one of the government of the Virgin Islands making promises from the beginning. Making promises and promptly forgetting making promises."
Moore said that even with the government’s financial crises, not all of Public Works’ difficulties stemmed from a lack of money. He was referring to Turnbull and Mills’ testimony that Public Works had at its disposal $2 million in Public Finance Authority bond funding for wastewater repairs and another $300,000 from the Asset Recovery Fund.
"It seems to me now a question of adequate staffing in DPW to accomplish what they need to do," he said.
Moore set further dates for final repairs to be made at the St. Croix wastewater treatment plant and at the Figtree Pump Station.

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