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HomeNewsArchives'Red Mud' Cleanup Now Likely to Begin in 2014

'Red Mud' Cleanup Now Likely to Begin in 2014

 The mound of red bauxite on St. Croix as it appeared in January 2011.The start of covering, sealing and stabilizing the huge mound of dusty, red aluminum refining tailings on St. Croix’s South Shore, previously projected for late 2012, is now projected by early 2014, according to St. Croix Renaissance Group officials.

"It was bumpy at first and we lost a little time," said St. Croix Renaissance Group Senior Vice President of Development Jack Thomas in a recent interview.

The mound sits on St. Croix Renaissance Group’s property and the company is playing a major oversight role in the remediation. However the bulk of the financial responsibility for the sealing the mound falls on St. Croix Alumina, a subsidiary of aluminum giant Alcoa, according to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and St. Croix Renaissance Group.

"Sometimes people on the ground don’t know what is negotiated," Thomas said. Details of the legal settlement concerning what is to be done were not communicated clearly to the parties actually dealing with the cleanup, he suggested, and getting everyone on the same page at the same time took longer than initially projected. But St. Croix Renaissance, St. Croix Alumina and the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources are meeting regularly and on the same page and preliminary studies and preparatory work are well under way, he said.

DPNR officials have also, independently confirmed a revised, detailed schedule for all the remediation on the red mound has been worked out among all the parties.

DPNR reviewed and approved a plan for the pre-design preparation work in October. It calls for St. Croix Alumina to conduct a series of studies, especially to find the boundaries of bauxite residue through test pits and shovel holes and to look into how the stuff behaves in the ground. A hydrology study is needed to evaluate storm water drainage requirements too. Then comes a greenhouse study looking at suitable plant species to cover the site. And SCA must acquire all the permits and approvals for drilling, test pits and the remediation work, according to DPNR.

Jehangir Zakaria, the company’s vice president for energy and engineering, said permitting and field data acquisition have begun.

"Within this study phase of the design, the hydrology and hydraulic study has also started and so is the preparation for the greenhouse pilot studies," Zakaria said in a written statement.

"After the study phase, which will result in the identification of a re-vegetation plan, the construction phase will start, expected last quarter 2013 to first quarter 2014," he said, emphasizing that the project "is proceeding in accordance with the consent decree and with full cooperation amongst the DPNR, Alcoa and SCRG".

Harvey Aluminum Corp. began developing the first plant on the site in 1962 and several different companies owned the manufacturing plant over the ensuing 40 years, the last being St. Croix Alumina. Over the decades, the plant produced millions of tons of caustic bauxite tailings as a byproduct of making aluminum. Wind has spread the dust around neighboring properties and erosion has moved some of the tailing into collecting ponds, toward the shoreline and to some extent onto the nearby seabed.

Local and federal enforcement officials have been trying to assess fault and cleanup responsibility for the noxious metallurgical wastes deposited on the site over several decades, even as several former owners of the plant and the land it sits upon fight protracted court battles over who is holding the bag.

In 2005, Gov. Charles Turnbull’s administration filed suit against a slew of companies that owned the property at one time or another, including St. Croix Alumina, Alcoa World Alumina, St. Croix Renaissance Group, Lockheed Martin, Century, and Vialco.

Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes reached agreements with St. Croix Renaissance Group and St. Croix Alumina in 2011, at which point, government attorneys and company officials projected work to begin by the end of 2012.

St. Croix Alumina has agreed to pay for work on the mound, but responsibility for work on other parts of the property, where tailings are buried, is still being negotiated with Lockheed Martin, court documents indicate.

Thomas said he believes agreement on those other areas is likely early this year, but he does not believe that work to be as crucial.

"It’s buried and you would never see it," Thomas said. "There has been a debate on what work is needed, if any, to improve that section," he said.

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