The V.I. government is almost done with strengthening its water pollution laws, seven years after it met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and agreed to do so.
And as Sen. Adelbert Bryan said at Friday’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Planning and Natural Resources, the move should have come decades ago.
"I think the proposal . . . is at least 30 to 40 years late," he said.
The proposal was committee Chairman Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg’s bill to amend the V.I.’s Water Pollution Control Act. The amendment would bring the territory’s law into conformity with the federal act and allow the local government to keep money collected from environmental fines.
The EPA’s Jim Casey said his agency and the V.I. government met in 1993 to develop a corrective action plan to bring the territory into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. He said the V.I. agreed to amend the local act, but a "compliance schedule came and passed."
"It will be a major accomplishment to bring the V.I. . . . into conformity," Carey said.
Meanwhile, Donastorg’s effort, which would also allow the territory to access increased federal aid to meet environmental mandates, was tabled for 30 days so it can be fine-tuned before going to the Rules Committee.
"We need to craft legislation that is particular to our concerns," said Devin Carrington, attorney for the Department of Planning Natural Resources’ Division of Environmental Protection. "What it can’t be is less stringent than federal law."
As senators discussed pollution in the Virgin Islands, focus quickly turned to the Department of Public Works, which operates the territory’s waste-water system. Public Works has been waging a losing war to keep an antiquated sewage system from failing completely, particularly on St. Croix.
When pressed by Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, Carrington said Public Works was probably the territory’s worst pollution offender.
A problem area for sewage spills is the LBJ pump station on St. Croix. Because of old, unmaintained pumps and the inflow of storm water into an antiquated sewage-collection system, the pump station has been discharging up to 200,000 gallons a day into the sea beyond Long Reef.
"The Water Pollution Control Act has been violated many times," Carrington said. "The bypass at LBJ has been continual since August. And it’s still happening."
Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. said that by early next week "we should hopefully begin to see some steps taken to see this end."
Although Public Works recently accessed $130,000 to fix the problems at the LBJ and Figtree pump stations, Carrington said the discharges continue. But when the Division of Environmental Protection goes to fine the agency, which it has done to the tune of $2 million-plus, "the cry we hear is 'We ain’t got no money.'"
Baptiste recommended jail time for public employees whose failures on the job result in violations of environmental laws.
"I agree," said Carrington. "There are people whose feet should be held to the fire. And that’s not being done."


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