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Cruz Bay
Tuesday, July 5, 2022


While the territory is in dire need of innovative ideas to raise revenue, there are some minor things the government can do to help itself sustain, operate and improve its basic infrastructure needs.
Over the last two years, federal and local auditors have said there are funding sources available that aren't being tapped that could help us deal with our solid and liquid waste problems.
For example, the U.S. Virgin Islands is the only jurisdiction under the American flag that doesn't charge a dumping fee at its landfills, or more precisely, its dumps. As part of a comprehensive solid waste management plan, such a fee would generate revenue so the V.I. Department of Public Works could better deal with the territory's out-of-control trash crisis.
Another example of mismanagement has lead to a crisis in sewage treatment. In an audit done by the Department of Interior's Inspector General in February of last year, it was pointed out that the DPW, which Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg calls the largest local polluter of territorial waters, has rules and regulations on its books regarding dumping septic sludge into the public sewage system by private haulers.
However, the audit found that DPW had not billed septic haulers for 10 years. According to the report, septic haulers generally charge customers between $150 to $250 per 1,500 to 2,000-gallon load. One business owner told the IG that he carried as many as eight loads a day to the sewage treatment plant.
Eight trips at $200 equals $1,600 a day. The DPW's rates are supposed to be $15 per 1,500 to 2,000-gallon load. But since DPW isn't collecting fees—as it's supposed to— revenues are being lost. And a private sector business is making a huge profit off a public system that barely functions.
Big deal? Well, the V.I. government is currently in trouble with the feds for operating a woefully inadequate wastewater system. When DPW is told to fix it, its leaders shrug, point at their budgets and say the department doesn't have the funds to repair the problems.
Additionally, the audit reported that over an eight-year period, the Department of Finance never collected sewer fees from some 1,434 users.
The result? Almost $350,000 was lost that could have gone to maintaining infrastructure.
In 1995, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended that DPW increase sewer user fees by $25 to more accurately reflect the cost of service. That alone would put $400,000 a year toward maintaining a system which all too often malfunctions, spewing raw sewage into our environment.
We support DPW Commissioner Harold Thompson's plan to create a semi-autonomous Waste Authority to deal with trash collection, landfills and sewage. Hopefully, with such an agency there would be oversight and accountability, two things that are lacking now.
Donastorg has said increased sanitation fees, criminal prosecution, lawsuits and mandated action plans are all necessary to protect public health and the environment. We agree.
But without accountability, nothing will change.

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