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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, November 29, 2023


After years of studies, reports, surveys and hearings – going back 23 years — the long- awaited wastewater treatment facility slated for the East End may finally become reality.
In a CZM Committee hearing Tuesday night, environmental engineer Mirko Restovic of Public Works said he felt like DPW was at the "last hurdle of a steeplechase."
The new facility will replace five outdated, overtaxed, malfunctioning treatment facilities.
The Mangrove Lagoon Turpentine Run wastewater collection and treatment project was initiated in 1976. In 1986, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and a Virgin Islands citizens committee developed a plan to replace the five malfunctioning sewage plants with one efficient facility for the treatment and disposal of waste, according to Kirk Grybowski, who served on the citizens committee 13 years ago.
The government didn't have the money to implement the plan and the permits eventually ran out. Since then the territory has been under an amended consent decree from the federal government, which requires the completion of the project by June 2000.
The new $30 million facility will be built with mixed federal and local funds — with larger amount coming from Environmental Protection Agency and the rest from the territory's Public Finance Authority, according to Restovic.
Restovic showed up for the hearing with boxes of old reports and a video that testifiers seemed to remember from other hearings.
"Oh, no, not the video," Grybowski commented.
Kenneth M. Kuhr, environmental engineer from Parsons Engineering Science Inc., provided testimony along with renderings of the proposed facility to be built at the Bovoni landfill.
Helen Gjessing, chair of the League of Women Voters Committee on Planning and Environmental Quality, said the Environmental Assessment Report on the project was excellent and though there were questions about some of the details, "We heartily support the beneficial aspects of the project, in particular, the elimination of partially treated sewage flow into Turpentine Run and Mangrove Lagoon. This will result in improved water quality, and ultimately lead to recovery of the Lagoon ecosystems. There are obvious socioeconomic benefits as well."
Some of the league's concerns were the integrity of the proposed outfall near Packet Rock, removal of the five obsolete treatment plants, and restoration of vegetation where the pipeline was to be laid.
The plans call for the sewage pipelines to run along roadways that Grybowski said flood and deteriorate from use by heavy trucks and equipment, which could cause the pipes to crack and leak.
Another concern expressed by the league and other testifiers was who would manage the treatment plant and how it would be monitored. Gjessing pointed to an Army Corps of Engineers' market feasibility study that notes, "The construction of a one-of-a-kind facility on St. Thomas would be difficult to maintain in view of the past history of operating and maintaining existing facilities."
Restovic said the plan included an apprenticeship program that would train people for the long term to run the plant.
Gjessing said the league favors the management of the new wastewater facility by an independent authority. The league asked the CZM committee to consider an informal post-hearing and pre-decision meeting so that information submitted during the seven-day comment period can be reviewed not only by DPNR staff and CZM members, but also by the witnesses at the hearing.
Paiewonsky asked Kuhr and Restovic to respond to the league's concerns.
Restovic said the project could be completed in less than two years. CZM Chairman Albert Paiewonsky quipped, "Is it a new policy of the government to give plenty of time to do this — you mean it's not an emergency — we don't have to have it done by hurricane season?"
Some in attendance said that after 23 years, the completion of a functional waste water treatment facility should be an emergency.

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