Home News Local news Ocean Defense Group Continues Battle for Wetlands Solution

Ocean Defense Group Continues Battle for Wetlands Solution


Sept. 23, 2005 – A motion for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the continuing construction of the Anguilla Wastewater treatment plant on St. Croix filed Monday by the Ocean Defense Group was, according to St. Croix attorney Ed Barry, who represents the group, an effort at a super fast-track remedy. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez was pretty fast, too — denying the motion on Tuesday.
However, in an e-mail Thursday, Barry still sounded upbeat. He wrote, "It is not a ruling on the merits. We still have a fast-track remedy, the possible preliminary injunction, after a hearing."
The motion for a preliminary injunction was filed on Aug. 9 in the V.I. Superior Court. The Superior Court has yet to set a date for that hearing.
The Ocean Defense suit states that construction of the $26 million plant has commenced without proper Planning and Natural Resource permits.
The suit contends that there is "irreparable harm to the public" because the permit procedure, which is being bypassed, guarantees "the health, welfare, and protection of the environment."
The Ocean Defense Group is made up, according to its own statement, "of scuba divers, a commercial fishermen's association, St. Croix Environmental Association, the C.R.A.B.B.S. dive club, and concerned citizens."
And last week the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce became a member.
Benjamin Rivera Jr., executive director of the chamber, said in a press release, "We must all be concerned about the responsible use of public funds." He added, "This lawsuit provides a meaningful opportunity to focus community attention on the constructed wetland alternative which offers a lower-cost solution that solves the present and future ocean discharge, irrigation water availability, and maintenance issues that have been a constant source of frustration for the government and the people of St. Croix."
The lawsuit is the latest step in a battle to have the Waste Management Authority consider a more natural method of cleaning the sewage through reconstructed wetlands and then recycling the water for uses in farming and on golf courses.
WMA officials have allowed that a reconstructed wetland plan has merits and in the end could be incorporated into the system. However, they say that to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates, the present proposed plant must be constructed.
At an April meeting, organized by Team St. Croix, reconstructed wetland advocates questioned why WMA should spend millions of dollars on a plant, if that plant was really not needed.
(See "Advocates of Natural Sewage Treatment Still Fighting").
The Ocean Defense Group said in a press release last week, "The group contends that the island's sewage effluent should be highly treated and reclaimed for farm and golf course irrigation, instead of being discharged into the ocean with resulting damage to the marine environment. The group seeks full and fair consideration by the government of the constructed wetlands technology, which uses a totally-underground sand filtration and natural biodegradation process to purify wastewater, as a means of accomplishing economical treatment and, ultimately, reclamation. The group contends that the savings from using this technology would more than cover the cost of the irrigation system."
According to Barry, the court has not yet decided whether the case belongs in the federal or the territorial court system. He added, "The group has a variety of strategic options available. "
May Adams Cornwall, who came on as executive director of the WMA after the decision to proceed with the mechanical plant was made, said Friday that she believed the plant was already 20 percent done. She said, "They have already poured the concrete." The plant is not scheduled to be completed until October of 2006.
Cornwall declined to comment on the suit. She said she did see her role when she came aboard as completing projects that had already received board approval.
The Ocean Defense Group has raised over $15,000 that was used to fund the research and preparation of the motions already filed. It has begun an effort to raise another $25,000 to underwrite the cost of more litigation and expert witnesses.
Contributions can be sent to the St. Croix Environmental Association, The Arawak Building, Suite No. 3, Gallows Bay, 00820.
Kelly Gloger, a spokesperson for the group, can be reached at 778-4266 or e-mailed at [email protected]

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