March 13, 2005 – Demonstrators, including Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen, gathered Saturday for about two hours at the main entrance to the Anguilla Landfill to support constructed wetlands over the proposed wastewater management treatment facility.
About 75 protestors stood along the side of the road, some brandishing signs of support for the cause and alternately using the signs as shade from the blazing afternoon sun. The peaceful protest was organized by Team St. Croix, a community activist organization representative of several long-standing St. Croix groups. The gathering drew honks of support from passing vehicles.
The protesters say their interest lies not only in the best and most economical way to treat wastewater, but to reclaim that water for agricultural use. This would be done through a constructed wetland project that would pump 1 million to 3 million gallons per day of discharge from the wastewater treatment plant to constructed wetlands in the mid-island area of St. Croix. The process would eliminate discharge into the ocean and allow for the wastewater to be reclaimed and made available for farmers to irrigate their crops.
Kelly Groger, Sustainable Systems Development senior administrator, said action must be taken before the Coastal Zone Management major land permit application is approved for the construction of the wastewater treatment plant. CZM will vote on the permit in April, according to Groger.
"We want to stop the approval and begin work on the constructed wetlands," Groger said. SSD has been leading the charge to establish constructed wetlands for several years.
Veolia Water North America is slated to build the proposed facility, subcontracting the work from the Maguire Group on St. Croix.
Groger said a constructed wetland will not only be more cost effective, but would reenergize the agricultural industry on St. Croix. He said the $56 million mechanical wastewater facility will not eliminate ocean discharge while the wetlands option would cost $30 million and provide near drinking-quality water as well as 1 million to 3 million gallons of water per day for crop irrigation and other uses.
In February, Sonya Nelthropp, director of the V.I. Waste Management Authority, said the repair of the 120 miles of sewage collection lines in the territory will cost an estimated $200 million over a period of 10 to 20 years.
(See "$4 Million from Feds Will Help Wastewater Collection").
Delegate Christensen said she has been a supporter of constructed wetlands for years. The Delegate said constructed wetlands are good for tourism. She said the reclaimed water can also be used to water golf courses. "It's a common sense approach," she said..
Kendall "Sego" Petersen, a member of St. Croix Farmers in Action, predicted a summer drought that will mean hard times ahead for farmers. "The farmers are going to give up this summer, the rain is already scarce," Petersen said. "It's only common sense to develop a system to help the farmers and recharge the aquifer. St Croix has thousands of acres of land for agriculture, but no system to bring the water to the lands."
Paul Chakroff, The Nature Conservancy's Country Program Director for the eastern Caribbean region, said the Conservancy has been using constructed wetlands for three years. "This is a tried and true technology," he said, adding, "If we can do it, the island can do it."
Samuel J. Baptiste, Team St. Croix president, said supporting constructed wetlands is part of the group's agenda. "We are in the game," Baptiste said, adding "The community supports it and it's necessary if farming is going to succeed.
The protesters are hopeful that the demonstrations will sway senators and the administration to adopt a more environmentally friendly attitude to this issue. Another protest is planed for Friday, March 18, at 4 p.m. in front of Government House in Christiansted.
Petersen summed up the tone of the demonstration by saying, "In the abundance of water, only fools can be thirsty."
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