At 4 a.m. Thursday morning Sylvia Kudirka, a resident of Pond Mouth in Cruz Bay, was jolted awake by an all-too-familiar noxious odor – the stench of raw sewage.
As she has done many times in the past several months, Kudirka went outside to confirm that the source of the smell was a nearby manhole, one of four, which was overflowing with sewage.
The sewage continued to flow until 8 a.m. when a staff member from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority showed up to manually flip a switch. That switch activated the pumps at a nearby lift station – located at the end of Fish Fry Road – which sends the sewage to the waste water treatment plant at the opposite end of Enighed Pond.
“This is a serious health issue. Exposure to raw sewage can result in several illnesses, including gastroenteritis and hepatitis,” said Kudirka, who added that residents routinely walk on the road through water that may be infected. “After awhile, you can taste the sewage in your mouth. One neighbor sleeps with a diaper over his face.”
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, Kudirka observed several people apparently discussing the problem at the site of the pump station. The Source contacted officials at VIWMA Wednesday afternoon for comment but had not receive a response by early afternoon on Friday.
Steve DeBlasio, a consultant with extensive storm recovery experience working for the Secunda Family Foundation, said he observed work in progress on Friday afternoon.
“There’s a contractor installing a new control panel that will bring WAPA power to the pump,” said DeBlasio. “I was told they are putting in a new pump and float assembly. The next step will be to connect the transfer switch and then the generator. It will all be automated with the new control panel.”
Problems with the lift station have been ongoing since Hurricane Irma struck in September 2017.
“After the storm, everyone said, ‘Be patient with us, we don’t have a spare pump,’” said Kudirka. “Really? You’re going me to tell your number one priority isn’t sewage?”
The post-storm situation improved following the repair of the pump and installation of a generator, but that generator no longer works. The storm apparently also damaged conduits that protect wiring which has become compromised.
Kudirka said VIWMA staff on St. John are trying to keep the system operating, but “the whole unit is down.” During the day, employees are on hand to manually turn on the pumps at the lift station, but at night no one is available; one employee returns to his home on St. Thomas and another lives in a part of St. John where there is no cell phone service.
The problem typically arises during night as the sewage, which is piped from various locations around Cruz Bay, collects near the lift station. When the sewage reaches a certain level, a float is supposed to activate the switch to turn on the pumps – a process similar to the way most toilets operate.
However, Kudirka said the float mechanism is broken, so the pumps aren’t activated. Overflowing sewage then bubbles out from the manholes, streams across Fish Fry Road, and pours into Enighed Pond.
Enighed Pond, where the barge terminal is located, opens directly into Pillsbury Sound.
Kudirka has been documenting the situation since April, when the lift station started to fail. She contacted Shikima Jones, the island administrator for St. John, who was sympathetic, as well as officials from VIWMA, but little has changed.
Kudirka said during this past week, the manholes near her house overflowed on Monday, Thursday and Friday, filling her home with a horrible smell.
“I have had guests staying in my house. I have to keep apologizing to them. It’s bad for residents. And what about the tourists staying in nearby rental units? This is going to hurt our economy.”
She speculated that VIWMA was now serious about addressing the problem because the governor will be arriving on St. John for the Fourth of July festivities; in the past, he has stayed in a nearby villa complex.