83.2 F
Cruz Bay
Friday, September 30, 2022


The dispute between AT&T and the V.I. government over the company's Coastal Zone Management permit to lay a fiber-optic cable near St. Croix will apparently come to a head next week.
AT&T must report by March 17 to a consortium of 46 telecommunications companies in the United States, South America, Central America, Europe and the Caribbean about the status of its permit to lay additional cables.
If the permit is not in hand, the consortium could tell the cable-laying ship to bypass the Virgin Islands and put the cable elsewhere. That decision must be made by March 17 because of the ship's scheduling, AT&T officials have said.
As planned, the cable would make St. Croix a global telecommunications hub and link all three Virgin Islands to communications networks around the world.
At this point, the government is refusing to modify the permit to allow any further cable-laying until AT&T settles the government's notice of violation and pays a fine for a 1996 mud spill. The Schneider administration in its final days set that fine at $23 million fine.
Negotiations are continuing — with the March 17 deadline looming.
Saturday's V.I. Independent quotes Noel Loftus, president of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, as saying the government's refusal to grant the permit until the fine is paid is "one more instance of St. Croix being held hostage by a government agency paying more attention to power" than what is in the islands' best interest.
Loftus said the V.I. government is a far bigger environmental polluter than AT&T's 1996 mud spill, and said the government's position is another example of it not being "business-friendly," the Independent story said.
But a Daily News story Saturday quotes Dean Plaskett, acting commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources, as saying another high-speed cable network company — not AT&T — may set up a global communications center on St. Croix, which would make AT&T's plan irrelevant. He declined to name the company.
Plaskett also said it's AT&T's fault if the cable-laying ships bypass St. Croix. "No one told them to bring the ships out there," he told the Daily News.
Plaskett said the new cable company's proposed deal is better for the Virgin Islands than AT&T's because AT&T won't provide local companies direct access to its cables but the new company will; the new firm will hire more than "15 or 20" people as AT&T plans to do; and the new company won't drill undersea tunnels for its cables, the Daily News story says.
AT&T has accepted responsibility for the 1996 spill and paid $1.5 million in April 1998 to reimburse the government for inspection and other costs. But the company contends that the proposed $23 million fine is exorbitant, and far beyond fines issued elsewhere for far more significant environmental damage.
Both papers on Saturday quote AT&T officials as saying a decision by the consortium to take the cable elsewhere would have serious public relations repercussions for the Virgin Islands.
Editor's note: AT&T legal representatives make their case in Commentary/Open Forum that the proposed $23 million fine is "unprecedented and unwarranted."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.