Oct. 7, 2003 – Cleanup of the Tutu wells Superfund site is expected to take "a long time," and the V.I. government is expected to bear a part of its huge cost.
At a sparsely attended "public availability" session Tuesday night on St. Thomas, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said the territorial government will have to begin footing the bill for the operation and maintenance costs of the site's cleanup beginning in the 11th year of the project, which is expected to go on for 30 years.
The 108-acre Turpentine Run aquifer at one time provided water to 1,600 area residents. Federal officials ordered the wells shut down in 1987 due to contamination. Most of the contamination is concentrated at the Education Department Curriculum Center. That facility once housed LAGA Textile Co. and Panex Co., which are thought to have been the major contributors to the contamination of the aquifer.
EPA officials said the groundwater and soil have been contaminated with volatile organic compounds including tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene and dichloroethene. All are associated with dry-cleaning chemicals that are used in textile manufacturing of the type previously carried out at the site.
The EPA's remediation project manager, Caroline Kwan, said on Tuesday night that the federal agency is concerned that individuals have been illegally pumping water from the wells in the Four Winds Plaza area.
She said the Planning and Natural Resources Department had granted permission to the owners of two wells in the area to use them, but to pump no more than five gallons per minute. She said pumping at a faster rate would draw contaminated water which could affect the health of individuals using it. Also, she said, pumping more than five gallons per minute could dry out the wells and cause saltwater intrusion.
"We have not gotten any compliance," Kwan said, adding that currently anyone can draw water without a permit despite local laws to the contrary.
Sen. Louis Hill, chair of the Legislature's Planning and Environment Protection Committee, attended the meeting. He told the EPA officials present that he would be willing to work with them in any way possible.
The EPA plans to build two water-treatment facilities, one behind the Curriculum Center and the other near the Rehabilitation Center. Water will be pumped out of the aquifer, treated, and then pumped back into the aquifer again.
The company CDM Federal Programs Corp. was hired in September 2002 to complete the design and installation of the cleanup facility and to operate it for a year. A $2.3 million subcontract was awarded in June to Arrowhead Contracting Inc., which is to provide the cleanup construction and to operate and maintain the treatment systems for a year, according to the DPNR Web site. Arrowhead, the site says, "has committed to retaining 33 percent of the subcontract dollars in the U.S. Virgin Islands through the use of local businesses."
The Solutions Group, a local wastewater and groundwater remediation company, was hired as part of the project team along with R& R Caribbean, a local general contractor. The Solutions Group also is the operations and maintenance contractor for Esso Virgin Islands Inc. and Texaco Caribbean Inc, which recently were ordered in court to pay nearly $9.3 million in a claim settlement with the Planning and Natural Resources Department.
EPA officials plan to discuss the Tutu wells Superfund rehabilitation plans on Thursday between 10 and 11 a.m. on WVWI Radio's Topp Talk program.
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