Dept. of Interior Pulls Support for Coral Bay Reverse Osmosis Plant


The V.I. Water and Power Authority’s plans for a Reverse Osmosis facility in Coral Bay seem to be dead in the water.

The Department of the Interior’s Director of Insular Affairs Nikalao Pula issued a letter to VI Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb on November 17 pulling the department’s support for the Coral Bay RO project.

WAPA first proposed the plan in 2008 and was awarded a  $981,000 Water and Wastewater grant from DOI. Since that time, however, the project has encountered a number of obstacles including raising alarm from federal agencies, according to Pula.

“Since that time WAPA has encountered a number of challenges while moving forward with the project,” Pula wrote to the OMB director. “The estimate cost and length of the project have increased substantially and other federal agencies have raised serious concerns regarding the project’s impact on the environment (particularly endangered species.) The WAPA has also been unable to secure local funding for the project as originally planned.”

“Consequently, we are unable to initiate and complete this project due to insufficient funding at this time,” Pula wrote. “We will close the 2008 grant and request that all final drawdowns and final reports be submitted within 90 days.”

DOI’s move came after several federal agencies questioned the plant’s impact on local waters and the cost of the project, explained Coral Bay Community Council president Sharon Coldren.

“From what I have heard, I think various federal agencies realized that the plant as proposed would have very negative environmental impacts to the coastal ocean resources and that the extremely high cost to build a plant and intake/outtake piping system to avoid this damage, and well as the piping distribution and sewage system on land, was far above the proposed benefit to the population here now or in the future,” said Coldren.

Coral Bay residents first heard about plans for an RO plant in the Fortsberg area at a public meeting in May with Springline Architect’s Tracey Roberts and BioImpact’s Amy Dempsey.

At the May meeting in Coral Bay, Roberts and Dempsey outlined the utility’s plan to construct an RO plant in Fortsberg capable of producing 50,000 gallons of water per day, constructing seawater intake and discharge lines, a pump system and pump station and an ultimately 500,000 gallon water storage tank on Parcel 6-4 Estate Carolina.

WAPA’s plan also called for burying a water distribution line across Coral Bay harbor and a distribution box ashore in the Johnson Bay area to service the Calabash Boom affordable housing community.

Coral Bay residents posed many questions at the May meeting, which were left unanswered by officials. When WAPA’s Environmental Assessment Report for the project was made public, about 50 Coral Bay residents formed a coalition in opposition to the project and wrote a letter to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources outlining their concerns.

As news of WAPA’s RO plant plans spread, residents in Coral Bay hoped for a meeting with the utility which was initially planned for mid-November. That meeting was canceled due to scheduling conflicts and now it seems a future meeting might not be needed.

While DOI officials will allow WAPA to utilize the remainder of the grant for other water-related projects, future funding for the utility’s planned Coral Bay RO plant will not be available from the Interior Department.

WAPA also received the letter from Pula and will meet with federal officials, according to WAPA executive director Hugo Hodge.

“We had some plans to put water in Coral Bay; we had some plans to serve some customers, and it’s been derailed and we have to find out why,” Hodge was quoted in a report in the V.I. Daily News.

While opposing WAPA’s plan for an RO plant in Coral Bay, many residents in the area called for more discussion and a more open planning process.

“I hope that a real vision and infrastructure planning process will be allowed to happen for Coral Bay,” said Coldren.