Environmental justice is often not achieved. This is especially true when one considers the situation with wastewater treatment on St. Croix.
The idea of an environmental justice program is to protect people, usually the most vulnerable people, from unhealthful living conditions. What could be much more unhealthful than someone being forced to wade through another's toilet contents?
If the last statement caused some readers to feel nauseous, consider the plight of the residents of the Golden Rock community on St. Croix. This is a community in the path of frequent torrents of sewage. Residents complain that sewage backs up in their drains and toilets. What would most of us do if, while washing the vegetables for our dinner salad, sewage gushed up into the sink from the drain? Most of us would be seeking a new place of residence.
That is exactly the point that needs to be understood. The people usually most affected by environmental justice issues cannot seek a new place of residence. They are usually financially incapable of moving to a new home.
I spoke with Curlitha Muckle, a resident of the Golden Rock community, and she explained to me that she is constantly sickened by the foul stench that permeates the neighborhood. She was at wit's end about what she could do next. Without the money to take legal action, and bereft of anything resembling representation in the government, what could she do?
This is the point where all citizens must become involved. It could well be our own neighborhood next. After all, there are only so many communities in which to live on St. Croix. Where will we go when we run out of places to hide?
There are two specific actions a resident needs to take upon sighting sewage in the street or gutter or anywhere outside of a sewage pipe. The first is immediately to contact the Public Works Department and ask to speak to the Utilities Division. After that, follow up with a call to the Environmental Protection Division at the Planning and Natural Resources Department.
Officials at both of these divisions need to know that a problem exists. If these calls fail to bring action, call me. I can be reached at 773-1989.
We have to begin to keep a paper trail of actions on which to build a case. Why? Because right next to the flag of the Virgin Islands, there is another flag usually referred to as Old Glory. If this government cannot get the job done, that government represented by Old Glory will be forced to take action.
I suspect that there are some U.S. government officials who would be happy to take up the cause of people who cannot defend themselves. Why would these officials choose to side with a group of poor and powerless people? For the answer to that question, read the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Editor's note: Bill Turner, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, was formerly a teacher and vice principal at the high school level in Puerto Rico.
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