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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, February 21, 2024


AT&T has agreed "in principle" to settle its environmental violations case with the Virgin Islands government, according to Shelly de Chabert, public affairs director for the communications giant.
Settlement of the longstanding dispute clears the way for permits to be issued allowing AT&T to land the Americas II cable system in St. Croix.
Although de Chabert would not discuss the amount or terms of the settlement, AT&T is expected to pay a fine of about $8 million. The company will also be required to clean up the mud spill at Butler Bay, St. Croix.
It was not revealed how much of the settlement will go to the federal government, which also brought charges against AT&T due to the spill, and how much will go to Jack Dema, the government's attorney on the environmental pollution case.
Two senators, Adelbert M. Bryan and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, have already denounced the settlement as being too little.
The mud spill, which was the crux of the dispute, occurred when AT&T was laying fiber-optic cable in 1996.
The fine may be largest ever paid by a utility company in the territory, according to Elliott Whisonant of Planning and Natural Resources. The original fine assessed by Planning and Natural Resources in the final days of Gov. Roy L. Schneider's administration was in excess of $23 million.
Throughout the negotiations on the fine, AT&T has claimed the assessment was excessive and unprecedented, citing examples of what the company claimed were far more serious infractions of federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations where the fines levied were a fraction of what the local government sought.
The full text of the company's comments can be found under Commentary/Open Forum in St. Thomas Source.
Donastorg, who is the chairman of the committee on Planning and Environmental Protection, said in a release from his office Wednesday that the $8 million is too low and does not serve as an "adequate deterrent" to future polluters.
Donastorg sponsored legislation in 1997 to send half of all fines levied for pollution and coastal zone violations to the Union Arbitration Award and Government Employee Increment fund to pay retroactive wages.
AT&T claimed the main damage done by the mud spill was the killing of 100 conch. The company insisted it chose to drill on the sandy bottom to avoid, as much as possible, environmental damage.
The settlement reportedly provides that AT&T does not admit any wrongdoing.
De Chabert said the agreement would probably be finalized sometime Wednesday, March 17.

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