March 26, 2003 – The V.I. government will appeal the March 10 ruling by District Judge Thomas K. Moore prohibiting the administration from recontracting a St. Croix company to oversee sewage system repairs and ordering it to hire a qualified contractor to operate the island's pump stations and sewage collection system for 18 months.
Meanwhile, there are indications that Ohanio Harris, a special assistant to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull whose name surfaced repeatedly in three days of testimony leading up to Moore's ruling, is no longer in that position with the administration.
Moore on March 10 ordered the government not to revive its $3.6 million contract with Global Resources Management Inc. — a contract which Turnbull had abruptly canceled without explanation two days before a scheduled show-cause hearing on why the government should not be forced to void the agreement.
The contract had been awarded last December without competitive bidding as a "public exigency" under a "state of emergency" declared by the governor. A petition filed in District Court by U.S. Attorney David Nissman arguing that the emergency was one of political expediency prompted Moore to schedule the show-cause hearing. (See "Judge finds 'reek of politics' in sewage contract".)
According to documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Justice Department and testimony before Moore, Harris was the chief executive of Global Resources Management until a year ago and repeatedly lobbied Public Works and Property and Procurement Department officials to approve the $3.6 million contract with the firm.
WVWI Radio reported on Wednesday that Harris "is no longer associated with the administration." It cited conflicting reports that he either resigned or was fired and said informed sources were unwilling to comment on Harris's status.
Calls to Harris's office on Monday and Tuesday went unreturned, and a Government House receptionist said only that he was out of the office. Government House spokesman James O'Bryan Jr., contacted on Monday, said he was not aware of any changes in Harris's status with the administration.
WVWI also reported on Wednesday that the V.I. government has hired a Philadelphia law firm specializing in constitutional law to argue its appeal of Moore's order.
The government contends that the federal court lacked jurisdiction in the case and impinged on the authority of the governor to declare a state of emergency regarding the St. Croix sewage system and thereby expedite repairs by circumventing the normal bidding process.
Moore also ordered the government to hire a "qualified independent private contractor" within 90 days of his ruling to operate and maintain St. Croix's pump stations and sewage collection system for the next 18 months.
For years, the federal court has been trying to enforce orders that the V.I. government comply with the federal Clean Water Act, which would mean stopping sewage spills and leaks that pollute St. Croix's streets and shorlines. The territory's lack of compliance with the terms of a consent decree entered into in 1984 and amended in 1996 regarding upgrading of its waste collection and disposal systems prompted subsequent orders issued by Moore in recent years.
The local government claims that in order to meet court-imposed deadlines it had to bypass normal bidding procedures in awarding the sewage-system repair contract.
Federal officials said Global Resources Management was a start-up company with no track record, equipment, resources or performance bond. The person who succeeded Harris as chief executive is Ashley Andrews, a St. Croix entrepreneur who has been involved in controversial and costly government contracts in the past.
According to WVWI, the local government is seeking another contractor at the same time that it is preparing to appeal Moore's order prohibiting it from re-contracting Global Resources Management.
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