Nov. 21, 2003 – A group of Estate Mon Bijou residents on St. Croix were finally paid for damages by the government Thursday after waiting nearly 20 years to get their money.
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards summoned the news media to Government House on St. Croix at 9:30 a.m. to conduct a mini-ceremony, handing attorney Richard Hunter — who represents 15 aggrieved parties in the area — a bundle of drafts amounting to about $390,000.
"This money has come from emergency funds," Richards said without elaboration. He said the situation in the Frangipani area of the estate is "bleak" and characterized the attempts to settle with the government "a long fight."
Richards said the area's long-standing sewage problems, which still exist, should not be allowed to continue. He cited "inappropriate engineering" as the cause of the troubles and said that he has brought the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Public Works Department together to clear things up.
"It wasn't the residents' fault," Richards said.
When he learned during a recent visit to the Mon Bijou area of the V.I. government's failure to comply with court orders to pay the claims, Richards said, he spoke with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, and measures were immediately taken to make things whole for the residents.
Hunter first sued the government in 1984 on behalf of his clients, who claimed that poor-quality work on the part of Public Works had allowed floodwaters to enter their properties, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Sewage routinely flowed into cisterns and homes, they complained, and any heavy rains compounded the mess.
The deluge of recent days brought home the reality that the problems remain unresolved, and it is likely more claims will be lodged, Hunter said on Friday.
Territorial Judge Edgar D. Ross found the V.I. government in contempt of court last July 2 for failing to comply with a 1986 District Court order accepting Hunter's clients' claims and a 1998 Territorial Court order to pay the damages and make repairs.
The July 2 ruling contained a stipulation requiring Public Works to clear Mon Bijou drains of all debris and vegetation by July 7. Ross had further ordered that Hunter's clients be paid, with accrued interest, by the end of October. They had been expecting payment by virtue of Ross's previous order five years earlier, but nothing was done, and no one was paid.
The $390,000 paid out on Friday includes interest accrued at 9 percent per annum over the last two decades. Individual claims ranged from $4,000 to $22,000.
Richards said some homes in the area will be condemned because of the problems, and the owners will receive just compensation.
None of Hunter's clients appeared at the press conference on Thursday, although some had met with Richards earlier in the day.
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