Waste Management could get EPA fine reduced by almost 90%

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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Waste Management Authority might have whittled $700,000 in environmental penalty fines down to $75,000.

The authority convened with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in District Court on Monday to discuss negotiations that stem from a federal consent decree that dates back to 1984, according to Waste Management Authority officials.

At the time of the original consent decree, the EPA found the V.I. government in violation of waste management practices. At the time, the Waste Management Authority had not yet been formed.

The EPA found that the territory's wastewater plants were in violation of their effluent limits permits, which regulate the content and amount of waste that is discharged into the territory's natural surrounding waters.

Since then, the V.I. government and the Waste Management Authority have had to report on the plants' pump stations, which have had numerous failures and caused millions of gallons of raw sewage to be spilled into the ocean.

On Monday, Waste Management officials reviewed a December 2013 proposed stipulation that would drop the fines to $75,000 total, according to Stella Saunders, WMA spokeswoman.

The court has not officially approved the amount, meaning it could rise or fall between now and the next court hearing before District Judge Curtis Gomez. The hearing date has not yet been set, Saunders said.

Compared with the $700,000 amount set back in 2008, the Waste Management Authority is thrilled to have the amount decreased, according to Saunders. However, the Waste Management Authority is hoping to bring the number down further still, she said.

"Most times, you pay nothing," Saunders said, explaining that entities expected to pay fines by the federal government via consent decrees often do not have to pay them if they resolve the root problems that led to the violations in the first place.

The $700,000 set-back in 2008 was a reduction from the more robust penalty fines set in previous years. Between fines that accumulated in the 1990s and the 2000s, the V.I. government and the Waste Management Authority were facing millions in fines, according to court documents.

In the 2002-2007 stipulation, the most recently approved stipulation, the EPA asserted that the Bordeaux, Brassview, Vessup Bay and George Simmonds wastewater facilities were in partial violation from January 2008 to March 2009. The Anguilla, Charlotte Amalie, Mangrove Lagoon and Cruz Bay plants were in partial violation from January 2008 to December 2012.

Of the eight plants previously in partial violation, the Waste Management Authority only has three plants - Anguilla, Mangrove Lagoon, and Red Point - that remain on the consent decree. Red Point now conducts the Charlotte Amalie operations.

The Waste Management Authority already has filed a motion for the permits that would allow all three plants to be removed from the consent decree, WMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall said in February. The permits are from the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

If the plants are removed from the consent decree, all eight plants would be in compliance with the consent decree, which would be historical, Cornwall said.

If the reduction to $75,000 is not reduced or raised and is approved, the Waste Management Authority would be expected to pay the amount in installments of $18,750 due 30 days, 90 days, 180 days and 270 days from the court's approval of the stipulation. The Waste Management Authority also would be required to pay interest.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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