While St. Croix's -- and the Virgin Islands' -- sewage woes aren't new, recent problems are beginning to impact the Big Island's struggling tourism industry.
Although the Figtree sewage pump station was repaired about a month ago, after unknown amounts of raw sewage was bypassed into Cane Garden Bay, the out-of-commission LBJ pump station continues to dump waste into the sea.
And that is killing business at three beach resorts near the offending pump, said Adam Hoover, director of Antilles Resort Management Inc., operator of Club St. Croix, Colony Cove and Mill Harbor resorts.
"I'm out of business in St. Croix -- plain and simple," Hoover said at Thursday's Senate Committee on Environmental Protection in Frederiksted.
Because of the problems, he said the company had to inform major tour operators on the mainland that the resorts will not accept guests because of the sewage being piped out just past nearby Long Reef.
"I either do it voluntarily or the tour operators look at us as not being honest with them," Hoover said in a subsequent interview.
The long-standing problems with the LBJ pump station has cost the company $100,000 over the last year and about $75,000 in gross revenues in the past 30 days, Hoover said. And when the company loses, Hoover said St. Croix and the V.I. government will as well, through lost jobs and reduced taxes.
"This is about the worst I've seen," he said. "It's money out of everyone's pocket."
When sewage is bypassed into the sea, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources is mandated to post warning signs along the shore while it tests the water. Since the latest problem at the LBJ pump has been going on for a month, that means the signs are constantly up. And that's not what tourists want to see, said Hoover.
Still, he emphasized that while the beach was closed as a precautionary measure, all water tests conducted by DPNR revealed results that complied with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.
"I have found that the water along the coast is compliant," Hoover said. "Nevertheless, the signs stay up and I lose business."
According to Wayne Callwood, assistant commissioner of the Department of Public Works, the LBJ pump station should be operational by July 20.
But that's only a small step in the territory's decades-long struggle to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements. Since the early 1980s, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice have levied millions of dollars worth of fines for the territory's wastewater noncompliance. In 1985 and 1994, the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the EPA, sued the V.I. government to force it to properly treat sewage being released into near-shore waters.
In 1996, the two parties signed a consent decree that called for specific steps to be taken, such as the construction of a wastewater treatment plant on St. John and one near the Mangrove Lagoon on St. Thomas.
For the most part, however, St. Croix hasn't seen any significant sewage system improvements other than the replacement of a section of pipe at the Figtree station last year.
"This is an issue that's a crisis on St. Croix," Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen said last week. "We'll have to spend a few million dollars to save several million."
Sen. Almando Liburd has suggested that the a state of emergency on sewage and solid waste be declared in the territory.
Meanwhile, there are rumblings within the community and the St. Croix Environmental Association about a lawsuit against the EPA and V.I. government to spur repair and replacement of a system that includes pipes that are 50 years old.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's way past the time to sweep it under the rug," said Hoover. "There's too much money involved and the environmental impact is too great."