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Thursday, September 29, 2022


The Virgin Islands' sewage treatment system is in a dangerous state of deterioration, with the V.I. Department of Public Works being blasted by many for being the largest local polluter of territorial waters.
At a Senate Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection hearing Friday on sewage in St. Thomas, Chairman Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said increased sanitation fees, criminal prosecution, lawsuits and mandated action plans are all necessary to protect public health and the environment.
"Public health must be of greater concern," Donastorg said. "As the first branch of government perhaps we must pursue mandating that these problems be addressed in a timely and comprehensive fashion rather than simply leaving it up to the executive branch. We all want clean air and clean water."
DPW Commissioner Harold Thompson testified at the meeting that wastewater collection systems in St. Thomas/St. John have been upgraded by the installation of new equipment. In St. Croix, however, Thompson said he is concerned about the contractor hired to repair major pump stations.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the V.I. Justice Department and DPW are expected to meet on the issue, he said.
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, however, said St. Croix's sewage system is so bad that it has to be replaced rather than repaired. Plaskett blasted DPW, calling the agency the biggest violator of the Clean Water Act in the territory.
Plaskett said DPNR has given up fining DPW for continuing violations because the latter agency has no money and has not made any attempts to fix problems. DPNR has a 15-page list of violations committed by DPW, he said.
Plaskett threatened the next step DPNR would take against DPW would be to submit a report to the V.I. Attorney General, requesting prosecution.
Donastorg also expressed frustration with DPW.
"Public Works is still at stage one. The fines and violations keep mounting," he said.
Earlier this year, DPW was cited for spills from a sewage line at Hull Bay that resulted in the closing of the north side beach for several weeks. Thompson said the problem at Hull Bay has been solved for the short-term and the water is tested twice a week for contamination.
"We can't allow this to happen," Donastorg said. "People depend on Hull Bay and other beaches for recreation and their livelihoods."
Donastorg also discussed a study that found that people eating fish caught in St. Thomas' Mangrove Lagoon were risking exposure to "bacteria and viruses."
"We have issued warnings about fishing there, but what is to stop these fish from swimming outside the Lagoon and spreading this contamination elsewhere?" he asked.
Thompson announced DPW's plans to create a semi-autonomous Waste Authority to deal with trash collection, landfills and sewage.

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