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Groups Ask for Time to Investigate Wetlands Solution

Jan. 1, 2005 — The V.I. Waste Management Authority is poised to go ahead with the construction of a secondary wastewater treatment plant to solve St. Croix's solid-waste problems and come up to federal Environmental Protection Agency mandates. But other groups are pushing a more natural treatment method which they say will not only cost less but be more environmentally friendly.
The Public Works Department has submitted a major land permit application to Coastal Zone Management for the construction of the plant. If the committee approves it, construction on the new facility will begin in February and be completed early in 2007. It will be built and operated by Veolia Water North America Caribbean at a cost of $26 million to the V.I. government. Veolia has subcontracted the design phase of the project to the Maguire Group of St. Croix.
CZM unanimously approved a permit for a new St. Thomas wastewater facility last month.
Advocating a more environmentally friendly way of treating waste at a meeting this week was a group from Sustainable Systems Development Inc. SSDI has been leading the charge for utilizing constructed wetlands for several years. At the hearing, held Dec. 29 at the Curriculum Center in Kingshill, Kelly Groger, SSDI senior administrator, suggested that Veolia petition the Environmental Protection Agency for a two-year extension of the compliance mandate to allow a constructed wetlands pilot project to be tested on St. Croix.
Megan Shoenfelt, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, said SEA and several other community groups including Farmers in Action, the Board of Realtors and the Chamber of Commerce, all support the development of constructed wetlands as a method of achieving secondary treatment of wastewater.
Calling CZM's pending decision a "defining moment," Shoenfelt asked the panel to take the more environmentally friendly road and request a two-year extension from the EPA to allow the pilot project to proceed. "St. Croix has an opportunity to trial a technology that can make a sweeping change to the landscape and quality of life on our island," Shoenfelt said.
Charles Bornman, Public Works senior construction manager, while admitting that a constructed wetlands system is viable, expressed his opposition to the extension, saying the government had failed for too long to comply with the EPA court order mandating secondary treatment facilities. He explained that the plan proposed by Public Works will treat an average of four million gallons of waste water per day, improve discharge water capacity, and through the construction phase and employment opportunities, strengthen the local economy.
Shoenfelt said constructed wetlands would mean savings of millions in the construction phase and over its projected life, treat wastewater to almost drinking water quality standards, recover water to irrigate and nourish farmland while replenishing St. Croix aquifers.
The concept of constructed wetlands has been bandied about in the territory for several years. In February of 2002, Onajie Jackson, SSDI president and founder, told the legislature that the system would produce both economic and ecological benefits.(See "Alternative Sewage Plan Heard by Senate") Jackson, at that time, was heading a group called Carib Infra-Tech. The presentation seemed to capture the favor of senators. However, in April 2003 the V.I. government approved a 20-year contract for Veolia.
In November 2004, SSDI invited Ron Levigne of New England Waste Systems Inc., a leading expert on the subject of constructed wetlands, to present the project to the community at the University of Virgin Islands.(See "Group Promotes Cleaning Sewage Naturally")
CZM will announce its decision at a public meeting scheduled for Jan. 19, ten days before the mandated deadline of Jan. 29. The time and place of the meeting will be announced at a later date.

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