Judge forces owner of Sapphire Beach property to reconnect condos to sewage treatment system

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ST. THOMAS - After residents of Sapphire Beach Resort and Marina were cut off from sewage treatment for almost 24 hours, a V.I. Superior Court judge on Tuesday ordered the owner of the plant to reconnect the condominium units to the system.

The owner of the wastewater treatment plant, Dean Morehouse of Beachside Associates, disconnected five of the six condo buildings at Sapphire at noon Monday after he did not receive a payment for which he had asked.

After an emergency telephone conference in the chambers of V.I. Superior Court Judge Adam Christian on Tuesday morning, the court granted a temporary restraining order against Beachside, forcing the reconnection until the matter can be heard in court.

A hearing date has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. April 7.

The Sapphire Beach condo association's legal counsel, Jim Derr, said that in the 24-hour period, the association paid for two truckloads of sewage to be pumped out and taken to the Mangrove Lagoon Wastewater Treatment Plant in Bovoni.

No overflow issues were reported, Derr said.

"It was manageable," he said.

Morehouse owns much of the property at the resort, including the parking areas, pool, wastewater treatment plant, reverse osmosis plant and the Seagrape building that used to contain the lobby and restaurants.

The condo association owns the six condominium buildings and the marina.

Neither Morehouse or his attorneys, Neil Goldman and Gregory Hodges, could be reached for comment by press time.

Morehouse and the Sapphire condo association have been fighting about property rights and usage for years.

The condo association filed a motion in court Monday asking the judge to preserve the status quo - leave the condo units with use of the wastewater treatment plant - and confirm a previous arbitration award regarding the use of the wastewater facility.

Last year, the dispute went to arbitration and a final award was determined, but both sides had objections and filed motions in court, and the court has not yet confirmed the arbitrator's decision.

According to the arbitrator, the condo association owes Morehouse $1.1 million for years of use of the wastewater plant. The association has been paying $5,000 per month since May 2006 for usage of the facility, but that was not enough, according to the arbitration findings.

Morehouse indicated that it costs about $13,000 per month to operate the sewage treatment facility, according to court documents.

On March 14, Morehouse's attorney sent a letter to the condo association indicating that unless Morehouse received $313,754.68 - one-fifth of the $1.1 million - the plant would stop taking the condo association's sewage.

Derr objected and said that the association did not agree to such a payment plan, and that the arbitrator's final award specified that the parties develop a payment plan over a five-year period.

In his order granting the restraining order Tuesday, Christian said shutting off access to wastewater treatment could cause environmental damage if the tank overflowed and sewage ended up on the beach. Using trucks to pump it out is not a long-term solution because the waste can only be taken to the Mangrove Lagoon Wastewater Treatment Plant during business hours, and it is closed on nights and weekends.

"Without the ability to flush toilets and drain bathing water, their properties will be rendered uninhabitable," Christian said.

Christian found that the disconnection of the condos from the wastewater facility would harm not only the individual property owners, but could harm the public's health and safety as well.

Beachside Associates bought the mortgage on the property for about $1.8 million in 2003, according to Derr.

The property - everything but the condo units and marina - was owned by a company called Bayside Resort.

In July 2005, Bayside Resort abandoned the property, which included the Seagrape building that housed the public bathrooms, a restaurant, main lobby and bar.

In 2011, a foreclosure action was filed in V.I. Superior Court, and at a court auction in December, Morehouse obtained ownership of the property.

Parts of the Seagrape building were boarded up several years ago, and the rest was shuttered in January. Access to the taxi drop-off area and the public beach parking lot also was blocked in January.

Last week, parking at the marina was restricted, although some parking was re-opened before the week was over.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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