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Monday, July 22, 2024


The heavy rains that have drenched St. Croix for the past several weeks are wreaking havoc on the Department of Public Works’ sewage system.
Because rainwater runoff is flooding the dry well at the LBJ pump station, DPW crews are unable to make needed repairs to the problem-plagued facility. Without the repairs, DPW is forced to discharge wastewater into the sea beyond Long Reef, said Harold Thompson, DPW commissioner.
"We have a serious infiltration problem at this point," Thompson said on Tuesday as heavy rains inundated St. Croix.
Thompson said that while the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of $130,000 from the Corrective Action Trust Fund to purchase new pumps for the LBJ and Figtree pump stations in August, discharges have continued.
Hollis Griffin, director of Environmental Protection in the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, told the Associated Press recently that the two offending pump stations have discharged more than 15 million gallons of sewage into the Caribbean Sea over the last five months.
This summer Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to DPW for the discharges, which Thompson confirmed on Tuesday. Before a fine is levied, which could be in the neighborhood of $2 million, the two departments have been working on a corrective action plan.
The exact amount of a fine, if any, will be based on DPW’s action plan and remediation schedule. DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett did not immediately return calls on Tuesday.
Although the DPW was able to make the necessary repairs at Figtree, Thompson said LBJ is still experiencing problems, mainly because of the wet weather.
"Since October when the pumps came in we’ve had some major problems with the wells," he said. "We need extra pump capacity. If we had a dry week it would do wonders for us."
Meanwhile, the rains are making the problems at the LBJ pump station worse. The combination of sewage, heavy storm runoff and the pump station malfunctions mean more wastewater, albeit diluted, is being discharged some 1,000 feet from shore.
Because of the rains, Mirko Restovic, a DPW environmental engineer, said the situation at the pump station is like pouring water into an already full bucket. As the heavy runoff continues, Restovic said the DPW isn’t able to determine how much wastewater is being discharged.
Thompson said he is currently working with the EPA to secure some $3 million in funding for wastewater projects throughout the territory. But the territory’s struggle to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements is decades old.
Since the early 1980s, the EPA and the Department of Justice have levied millions of dollars worth of fines for the territory's wastewater noncompliance. In 1985 and 1994, the Department of Justice, on behalf of the EPA, sued the V.I. government to force it to properly treat sewage being released into near-shore waters.
In 1996, the two parties signed a consent decree that called for specific steps to be taken, such as the construction of a wastewater treatment plant on St. John and one near the Mangrove Lagoon on St. Thomas.
St. Croix’s wastewater system, however, is antiquated and prone to malfunctions. The LBJ station pumps sewage from the Christiansted area up and over the hilly mid-island area to the Figtree station just east of HOVENSA. From the Figtree station, the sewage is pumped to DPW’s wastewater treatment plant near the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
The sewage is treated at the plant and then piped approximately a mile out to sea where it is released.

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