Dec. 1, 2003 – Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards in his capacity as acting governor signed an agreement on Monday for the territory to receive $5 million from the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs to improve the territory's wastewater treatment infrastructure.
The grant is for "the design, construction and operation of two secondary wastewater treatment facilities: the Anguilla treatment plant on St. Croix and the Charlotte Amalie treatment plant on St. Thomas," a release from the Lieutenant Governor's Office stated.
"This funding request was included in President Bush's 2004 budget and subsequently approved by Congress," Charlene Leizear, Insular Affairs grants manager, said. The Interior Department "is pleased with the consistency in reporting progress and in the adherence to federal mandates" on the part of the V.I. government, she said.
Many of the problems with the territory's wastewater 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. Because of the ongoing illegal discharge of thousands of gallons of raw sewage a day into the sea on St. Croix, District Judge Thomas K. Moore issued additional orders in February 2000 setting specific dates for Public Works to make repairs.
In October 2001, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull appeared before Moore in a contempt-of-court hearing in which top government officials were called to tell the judge what progress they were making to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and pumping stations in the territory. Moore scheduled the hearing after the V.I. government failed to show progress in bringing the facilities into compliance with federal Environmental Protection Agency standards, which the government was under court order to do.
"I'm going to have to do some micromanaging," Turnbull told Moore at that time as he pledged to bring the sewage facilities up to standards.
Leizear said on Monday that the Office of Insular Affairs will continue working with the Public Works Department and the territorial administration "to assist in realizing future funding."
According to the release, Richards met on Monday with Interior, Public Works and Office of Management and Budget officials "to discuss the mandated use" of the grant. There was no explanation of when Gov. Charles W. Turnbull left the territory or where he is.
Contracts for the capital projects to be funded are under negotiation and will require approval by the Legislature, the release stated. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a deadline of January 2004 for the contracts to be finalized, it said.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen said in August that the U.S. House and Senate had both approved the $5 million appropriation. The money, which was in an Interior Department appropriations measure, "would cover a significant part of the court-ordered work on the territory's wastewater system," a release from her office stated. (See "Delegate sees over $8M from Congress for V.I.".)
Richards on Monday called the funding "a giant step in the right direction."
Sonya Nelthropp, Public Works wastewater and solid waste manager and senior manager for federal compliance, said the grant "demonstrates that the Department of Interior recognizes that the government of the Virgin Islands is serious in meeting the federal mandates with respect to wastewater."
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee will consider a number of applications for new federal funding, including three from the Planning and Natural Resources Department seeking:
– $70,000 for sewage infrastructure research and a demonstration project.
– $2,790,800 for drinking water capital infrastructure.
– $400,000 for water-quality management planning.
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