Aug. 8, 2002 – The Planning and Natural Resources Department is ordering the U.S. Department of the Interior and the contractor it hired to carry out capital improvement projects on Water Island to stop work.
A cease-and-desist order has been issued by DPNR's Permits Division. Hollis Griffin, division director, said he was calling a halt to all activities associated with the construction of a fire station and a wastewater treatment plant on Water Island "until Interior or its authorized agents come in and obtain all the necessary permits." Griffin added, "I think they are under the impression they don't need the permits."
DPNR also is citing Interior, the federal Department of Insular Affairs and the Bureau of Reclamation, along with its contractor, for violations of local and federal pollution laws, including the U.S. Clean Air Act. According to legal counsel Devin Carrington, those charges relate to the recent demolition of villas in an area of Water Island known as "the catchment basin."
An administrative action being filed by DPNR charges Interior with violating the Clean Air Act, the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and two local laws, the V.I. Air Pollution Control Act and the Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Act.
Complaints about the improper handling of asbestos-laden debris from the villas being demolished led the Public Works Department to relocate a residential trash dump in June. Tests conducted by DPNR's Environmental Protection Division in July confirmed asbestos contamination at the site adjacent to the trash dump where contractors carried debris from the demolition.
Griffin said demolition of the villas and construction of a fire station and wastewater plant are part of an agreement struck between the V.I. government and Interior when jurisdiction over Water Island was transferred to the local government from Interior in 1996.
In a statement issued in response to reports of asbestos contamination, Edgar Johnson of Interior's Office of Insular Affairs said his agency and its contractors had obtained all the necessary approvals for the work being undertaken.
"There were concerns from the V.I. government about whether we had the proper permits," Johnson said Wednesday. "We felt we had the right, the approval from the V.I. government, or else we would not proceed."
An office/dormitory/kitchenette complex for the Fire Service station and an evapotranspiration unit for the remaining villas appear on a fast-track list of capital improvement projects put together by the Turnbull administration. Brent Blyden, director of DPNR's Permits Division, said he tried to avoid issuing the stop-work order because of the projects' importance to Government House and had warned federal officials that they had not completed the local permitting process.
Permitting process problems were discussed in a telephone conference call earlier this week among DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett, Carrington, Johnson and Bureau of Reclamation representatives.
The bureau is the agency responsible for overseeing the Water Island demolition projects. Blyden said he decided to issue the cease-and-desist order when he learned that construction had begun on one of the two fast-track projects.
Johnson said work on the fire station has not started, but contractors have begun work on the evapotranspiration unit at the site of the remaining villas "because there were concerns about the way they were discharging their wastewater," he said.
Blyden said the actions he was taking against Interior were the same actions he would take against anyone who carried out construction or demolition without the required permits. Since the same problem occurred during the demolition and construction phases, cease-and-desist orders are being issued for both, he said, although the demolition phase is over.
He said he expects a simple resolution. Interior can file for the permits and may have to pay some fines associated with the villa demolition. Fines could be assessed at up to $200 a day for each violation cited, he said.
Keith Parsky, a spokesman for Interior, said on Wednesday that talks had been held with Plaskett about obtaining local permits until this week. He declined further comment on the actions now under way. "It would be improvident to comment without seeing what is being alleged by DPNR," he said.
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