The recent spate of federal activity in the Virgin Islands has turned many heads in the community. When the first wave began last year, many people dismissed the warnings of various federal agencies as so much bluster and so little substance. Some local officials were almost nonchalant about the nature and intent of the federal warnings. Now, a year later, those warnings are beginning to become ominous clouds on an already darkened horizon.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has essentially dismissed the governor's appointed interim board as a solution. Going one step further, Mr. Michael Liu from HUD even added that because the V.I. Housing Authority was financially engaged with the local government, it would present the opportunity for conflict of interest if the governor had appointed the entire board.
Last year, the problems of the Housing Authority were underneath most radar screens. That would include mine, because I was engaged in dealing with two other problems of great concern.
The first was the Anguilla landfill on St. Croix. When Sen. Celestino White referred to the coming "Hurricane Anguilla," he was right, but for all the wrong reasons. I said then that the bird strike argument would divert attention from the real problem of landfill non-compliance with EPA standards. A year later, we see that failure to close the landfill has brought an end to FAA discretionary funds, but we still have not heard from the EPA.
That could be because the EPA is in the middle of complex litigation against the local government over wastewater treatment and evacuation non-compliance. Almost everyone is now aware of the dangers associated with raw sewage. In spite of these dangers, the local government has stalled on repairs, been scolded by a federal judge for contractual irregularities and generally failed to bring about needed reform. All of this would seem to be just business as usual if it were not for the Endangered Species Act.
Through waste, mismanagement and vacillation, the local government may single handedly cause the loss of desperately needed rum taxes. In a worst case scenario, it could be proven that the pollution on the South Shore could lead to danger for the Brown Pelican or any of the endangered sea turtles. The EPA would be forced to look with a skeptical eye at the current set of waivers that it has granted for the government and rum producers. The loss of those waivers could force the cessation of rum production.
The V.I. government could end all of this speculation by capping the landfill and building a secondary treatment plant for wastewater that could handle rum effluent. It could even use some of the rum tax proceeds to cover the cost. The point is, the clock is ticking, and I doubt that this government will have the luxury of another year to waste. I hope that out officials do not commit the $75 million error in their handling of the South Shore equation.
Editor's note: Bill Turner is a writer, a former history teacher and the executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association. He writes a daily commentary on events in the Virgin Islands that can be accessed at V.I. Buzz.
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