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US Attorney Notified About Continuing, Illegal Dumping of Raw Sewage

Although We Wrote to the US Attorney About Contempt of Court Orders, We Heard Nothing Further

Response email from the US Attorney

From: Hewlett, Joycelyn (USAVI) [mailto:Joycelyn.Hewlett@usdoj.gov]
Sent: Thursday, April 29, 2010 12:45 PM
To: Susan Wolterbeek
Cc: Enck.Judith@epamail.epa.gov; miyoko sakashita; Frankel, Donald (ENRD)
Subject: RE: Recent dumping of 72 million gallons of raw sewage over Long Reef

Dear Ms. Wolterbeek:

Thank you for your telephone call and e-mail.  I have copied Attorney Donald Frankel, the lead attorney on this case.  He has been following the developments in this case and will respond accordingly.

Original Notification Letter to US Attorney, Asking Them to Enforce Court Orders and the Endangered Species Act

Joycelyn Hewlett
Civil Chief/ FLU Supervisory Attorney

United States Attorney’s Office
United States Courthouse & Federal Building
5500 Veteran’s Drive, Suite 260
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands 00802-6424

Re:  Recent dumping of 72 million gallons of raw sewage over Long Reef

Dear Attorney Hewlett:

I am a stateside attorney and former NYC Assistant District Attorney, and am writing in regard to VIWMA’s dumping 72 million gallons of raw sewage over Long Reef from January 17th through mid-March, 2010.  The VI Daily News reported that Federal District Court Judge Gomez directed VIWMA to do the following:

– Ensure the one working pump at Figtree station remains operational.

– Install a second working pump at Figtree by Tuesday.

– Comply with the public notification requirements as detailed in the Territorial

Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. According to the permit, the agency must notify the public by television, radio and newspaper each day a sewage bypass occurs.

– Ensure that St. Croix has two operational auxiliary diesel pumps for emergencies. The first must be obtained by Wednesday and the second by March 26.

– Certify that the Cancryn pump station on St. Thomas has a six-inch and a four-inch auxiliary diesel pump in working order as backup for the 10-inch pump currently in operation.

The federal government said in Thursday’s court filing that in addition to the problems at LBJ and Figtree, the Barren Spot pump station on St. Croix and the Cancryn pump station on St. Thomas also are in danger of failing as well.

One would think that VIWMA would be very scrupulously complying with the federal court order, purchasing and installing all the replacement and backup pumps according to the judge’s schedule. Also note that VIWMA was to certify that the Cancryn Pump Station, the main station of St. Thomas, is operational, with two back-up pumps. However, according to the VI Daily News article dated Friday, April 16, 2010:

“Because of the frequent failures, Waste Management is planning to buy a number of upgraded pumps to replace the downed pumped and a backup for each station on St. Croix.” …“St. Thomas’ Cancryn pump station – the island’s main station – has been without a working pump for close to nine months, Cornwall said. A contractor is diverting flow around Cancryn to another station while cleaning takes place. The station should be back up and running by the end of April, Cornwall said.”

These statements lead one to believe that the pumps have not been purchased yet, in direct violation of the District Court Order.

I wrote to Jim Casey, Virgin Islands Coordinator of EPA Region 2 on Monday, April 26, 2010 to suggest that the EPA  may want to  confirm that VIWMA has complied with the March District Court Order. Then, the next day, VIWMA again allowed raw sewage to flow into our coastal waters and the Caribbean Sea.  It was emphatically stated that this new release of raw sewage was a pipe issue, not the pumps, but you may want to find out whether VIWMA bought and installed the pumps as specified in the court order, or just submitted a plan to do so.

Further, the March Court Order states that Cancryn pump station “is in danger of failing”, not that it has already failed, waste is currently diverted around Cancryn, and that station has been without a working pump for 9 months.  According to the Order, VIWMA had to certify in March for Cancryn that there are 4 inch and 6 inch auxiliary backup pumps in addition to a working 10 inch operational pump. Yet, VIWMA stated in April that the Cancryn pump has not been working for 9 months, so how could they possibly make such a certification?

According to NOAA, “coral reefs buffer adjacent shorelines from wave action and prevent erosion, property damage and loss of life. Reefs also protect the highly productive wetlands along the coast, as well as ports and harbors and the economies they support. Healthy reefs contribute to local economies through tourism. Diving tours, fishing trips, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses based near reef systems provide millions of jobs and contribute billions of dollars all over the world. Recent studies show that millions of people visit coral reefs in the Florida Keys every year. These reefs alone are estimated to have an asset value of $7.6 billion (Johns et al., 2001).”

You may be aware of the enormous oil spill which is near Florida and appears to be headed for the Florida Keys, where NOAA and Coral experts have been protecting and recolonizing coral. If Florida’s coral dies from this massive oil spill, we must be all the more protective of the coral in the USVI.

There remains only 3 percent left of the coral of 30 years ago.  Staghorn and Elkhorn Coral are currently protected by the Endangered Species Act, and the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a formal petition to protect 83 more imperiled coral species, seven of which are local to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  These corals already face a growing threat of extinction due to rising ocean temperatures caused by global warming, and the related threat of ocean acidification.  Now 72 million gallons of raw sewage has been dumped onto the reefs, then more on Tuesday. Steps must be taken to ensure there will be no more dumping, or the reefs will be gone.

Sincerely yours,

Susan K. Wolterbeek

cc: Judith Enck, EPA Administrator, Region 2

Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Director, Center for Biological Diversity

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