Dec. 4, 2003 Plans to implement a comprehensive land- and water-use plan for the territory are back on the front burner, according to Sen. Louis P. Hill, who spoke at the 8th annual Nonpoint Source Pollution Conference on Thursday.
The two-day event runs through Friday at the Westin Resort and Villas in St. John. A total of 202 people registered for the meeting, which includes workshops on numerous issues related to nonpoint source pollution.
This scientific-sounding term refers to pollution caused by sediment running down the hillsides when it rains, among other sources. Runoff is a major cause of seawater pollution in the territory.
Hill said he has two goals he hopes to accomplish during his term as senator. The first passage of a bill to create a territorial waste management authority will be voted on by his Planning and Environmental Protection Committee on Friday.
The second goal is to see a land- and water-use plan put into place.
A previous round of work began more than a decade ago, but never moved to completion.
Hill said he expects to hold public hearings on the matter in February 2004, with the vote on the final plan coming in the summer of 2004.
The senator said that the damage caused by November's heavy rains point out the need for such a plan, and he urged conference participants to help get that message to the public.
"We cannot institute and bring about comprehensive changes without people like you," Hill said.
Many of the participants work for various federal and local agencies in the territory and on the mainland that deal with environmental issues. Others were residents with an interest in pollution matters.
Donna Somboonlakana, the nonpoint-source coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 2, said that the current federal budget allocates $268,000 for the Planning and Natural Resources Department to address nonpoint-source-pollution issues.
Programs across the country received a total of $238 million. However, Somboonlakna said that she expects that figure to be cut in the next budget in light of the federal government's need to spend money on the fight against terrorism, the war in Iraq and other security initiatives.
She gave the territory high marks for its efforts to deal with nonpoint source pollution.
"The Virgin Islands program has progressed the most," she said.
She said the money goes to pay for staff, conferences and demonstration projects.
Somboonlakana, who has been visiting the territory from her office in New York since Thanksgiving, said she saw pollutants like cigarette butts and dog droppings on the beach.
"Education is half the battle," she said.
She said she observed "unbelievable" sedimentation caused by the torrential rains during her island tours.
LaVerne Ragster, president of the University of the Virgin Islands, asked the participants to report back at next year's conference how well they were able to address the issues.
She pointed out that while everyone here was part of the problem, they were also part of the solution.
She said she was pleased to see that the conference was now in it's eighth year.
"I'm always thrilled in the Virgin Islands when something goes past two years," she joked.
In preparation for the conference, the planners held a poster contest. Winners were Julian Casazza and Michele Whiebracht, both seventh-graders at Antilles School.
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