April 20, 2004 – Nearly 40 New Tutu residents assembled in the Senate chambers Tuesday evening to voice complaints about a sewage problem of more than 30 years' standing in their community and to hear from government officials what can be done about it.
The main official invited to testify, Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood, wasn't there.
The commissioner's absence did not sit well with the members of the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee or with irate residents who say they have reached the end of their rope. When Sen. Louis Hill, the committee chair, announced that Callwood was not present, moans from the Tutu group were audible. Some said they felt insulted by his failure to appear.
The sewer line serving New Tutu is more than 40 years old, and there is no way to repair it, as the pipes run under people's homes, garages and porches. A private developer installed the lines without proper planning and the project was then turned over to the government; nothing has ever been done to rectify the problem. Residents say they have had 30 years "of excuses."
Discussion focused on the sewer stench which permeates residents' homes, and has for years. Manholes in front and back yards release the odor.
Hill said Callwood had telephoned earlier in the day to say he had a problem and wouldn't be there for the hearing.
After consulting with Karen A. Isaac, New Tutu Home Owners Association chair, Hill decided to proceed with the meeting. "Given the fact that the commissioner is not present and didn't send a written statement, we will hear from the residents and we will subpoena Callwood," he said.
Sonya Nelthropp, Public Works senior manger for federal compliance, said Callwood had told her he had a "family issue." In her own address to the committee, she said: "I am not as prepared as I would like to be."
The remark raised the ire of senators. "If Commissioner Callwood had intended to be here, he would have a prepared statement," Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg said. "She [Nelthropp] has no prepared statement. He should be here."
His remarks provoked much clapping from the Tutu residents along with calls of "Right, right! Where is he?"
Public Works representatives dismissed
Hill excused Nelthropp and other Public Works officials present and invited the New Tutu representatives to testify. Isaac said she was giving her statement with "much disgust, disappointment, distrust and dissolution in our government's ability to solve a sewer gas problem that has existed for over 30 years. Every administration has promised to correct the situation which to date has not happened."
Isaac gave a short history of residents' frustration. For 30 years, she said, residents have had to "inhale the sewer gas emanating from the manholes that run through our properties." She said she has written numerous letters.
On top of everything else, she said, now "all the waste from the 176 section of Tutu and several other areas is pumped through our properties and then to the Bovoni treatment plant."
She said Callwood and Nelthropp had promised that section of Tutu was to be routed directly to the new plant, and that some of the problem would be solved. "It did not happen," she said.
Isaac said Callwood's usual response to queries is that he "doesn't know, or he is working on it." She said residents had gathered signatures on a petition about the situation and had delivered it to the office of Delegate Donna M. Christensen. "I hoped to get a medical perspective," Isaac said, "but we got no response." Christensen is a medical doctor.
Isaac said she has written to Jim Casey, local representative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and that he told her of having written to Callwood twice about the matter, with no response.
Residents recounted tales of combating the odor. George Reed said he appreciated Isaac's efforts. "Yesterday, about 2:30 a.m., I was awakened by the perfume," he said. "It was a new fragrance, worse than before. I'm sure some illness would be created by this constant stench."
Pastor Kenrick Buckle said: "To inhale, the residents are bound to have side affects. I'm disappointed. We are treated like second-class people."
Henry A. Thompson, who identified himself as a cancer survivor, spoke of health risks. "Some may think this is a trivial matter," he said. "However, I am sure my neighbors think and know otherwise.
"We appeal to you guys, the powers that be, for a resolution to this situation," he continued. "The EPA has indicated to us the serious health hazard. As you know, when cancer is mentioned, everyone tends to sit up and listen. I know, because you are looking at a cancer survivor. I most certainly don't want to see or hear of any of our area residents stricken."
Thompson said it is the residents' "sincere hope that you guys can and will do whatever to eliminate this situation."
Official offers no immediate or long-term solutions
Hollis Griffith, director of environmental protection for the Planning and Natural Resources Department, was the last government official to testify. He did not offer any consolation to the residents in terms of immediate or even long-range solutions. A Tutu resident himself, he pointed out that he is familiar with the problem.
But resolving it "is a process, not an event," he said. "When the homes were built, the design was very poor, with pipes in residents' backyards. I understand the residents want immediate relief."
"Immediate after 30 years," someone in the audience called out, as gasps and laughter interrupted Griffith. "It's not like it could be fixed with a Band-Aid," he said.
Griffith described options he said his agency is exploring and suggestions he has received from the EPA. "The problem is so big, the magnitude of the problem is so huge," he said. "You have to look at it globally. We have to prioritize and figure out what is the most vexing problem." He said his own agency has taken some "enforcement action" but didn't state was it was.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd said that "until the residents see backhoes doing some work, this is just talk." He said St. John had a similar problem for years without a sewage treatment plant.
Donastorg stated that "the government is the biggest violator." And Sen. Carlton Dowe noted the administration has just been authorized to issue bonds to fund capital projects relating to sewage problems. "We need to have Callwood here, and he needs to present a timetable for action," Dowe said.
On a motion by Donastorg, the committee voted to subpoena Callwood to appear for a meeting with the Tutu residents and bring with him all current sewer plans and a timetable for road work in the territory.
On a suggestion by Sen. Ronald Russell, the committee will invite the governor's nominees for the board of the new Waste Management Authority; Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget; and Kenneth Mapp, Public Finance Authority director of finance and administration, to that meeting.
All seven committee members were present at Tuesday's hearing: Sens. Roosevelt David, Donastorg, Dowe, Hill, Liburd, Shawn-Michael Malone and Russell.
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