Aggregate Inc., a gravel company north of Frederiksted owned by Ann Abramson, may be on the edge of losing its license to operate, officials from Planning and Natural Resources and Licensing and Consumer Affairs told a Senate panel on Tuesday.
The Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice’s new chairman, Sen. Kenneth Gittens, held the hearing to get an update on law enforcement activities from the V.I. Departments of Justice, Police, and Planning and Natural Resources, the Bureau of Corrections, the Division of Licensing and Consumer Affairs.
In May of 2012, DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes told another Senate committee that the Aggregate Inc. quarry was in violation of an array of environmental regulations, as well as permit and zoning requirements.
Barnes said the neighboring Caledonia Gut is especially environmentally sensitive, and the quarry has contaminated and impacted the gut with dust, sediment and debris.
The department cited the company for violations and was planning on enforcement actions and fines, Barnes said last year.
The quarry’s owner appeared at that hearing and said she had been ill, but promised to quickly address the violations.
Sen. Judi Buckley said that some St. Croix residents had sent a letter asking DPNR and DLCA to revoke the business’s license and asked what was happening with the quarry.
"We are in the process of reviewing the license," DLCA Commissioner Wayne Biggs said. "DPNR is doing the due diligence on their side. We decided we could not revoke the license based solely on a letter and had to investigate," he said.
"Commissioner Biggs is correct," Barnes said. "We met with the principals of Aggregate Inc. about the zoning violations. We had a verbal agreement that Aggregate would take certain actions and they have not," she said.
"The department is in the process of preparing a notice of violation to Aggregate for their failure to apply for a use variance or rezoning at that site," Barnes said, adding that Aggregate has a certain number of days to respond and has been notified "that failure to respond would result in the revocation of their license."
While testifying about DPNR’s various law enforcement activities, Barnes said the department regularly confiscates firearms from boaters who arrive in the territory with registered, legal firearms, but did not register them with U.S. Customs and local police as required. Owners have 24 hours to present proper registration and licensing documents, and while most of the guns are registered, many just abandon the guns, she said.
"Generally about 85 percent of the boaters leave the territory without retrieving those weapons," Barnes said.
Several senators and police officials expressed concern that, without tight controls, these guns might end up on the street.
Sen. Tregenza Roach asked what becomes of the weapons.
"We maintain them and eventually turn them over to the V.I. Police Department or maintain them … in our cache of weapons," Barnes said.
"Do you have a system to preserve chain of custody for them for court presentation?" Gittens asked.
"Yes, we have a chain of custody," said Roberto Tapia, acting director of environmental enforcement at DPNR. "The person signs a receipt and we will take that to our office and file it," he said.
Later Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly asked acting Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard if it "concerns" him that "DPNR is confiscating weapons and holding onto them."
"Yes, it does," Querrard said. "We need to be able to run serial numbers. There is a process we have to go through and, just knowing about that now, I will be following up with them because we should be in the loop," he said.
O’Reilly said she agreed it needed follow-up but also reiterated that Tapia had said DPNR maintained a chain of custody.
No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing. Present were Gittens, O’Reilly, Buckley, Roach, Sens. Craig Barshinger and Clarence Payne III. Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen was absent.