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St. Thomas – The Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive an update post-Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria on entities administered to assist with the hurricane recovery phases of the Government of the Virgin Islands to include projects and timelines.

“This is not a budget hearing. This meeting is about the hurricane recovery process. The public consistently has inquiries concerning the entities hired by the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) and what their roles are in the Territory,” said Sen. Vialet.

V.I. Public Finance Authority Executive Director Valdamier Collens shared the update. Witt O’Brien’s and Ernst & Young are the leading firms partnering with GVI to assist with the hurricane recovery process.

The primary responsibility of Witt O’Brien’s are program management and implementation of FEMA’s Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs such as HUD’s Community Development Block Grant and the Disaster Recovery Program. Thus far, Witt O’Brien has developed damage description, scopes of work, and the creation of project worksheets and Hazard Mitigation Grant application Territory-wide. Short terms tasks include WAPA debris removal, Sheltering Temporary Essential Power Program and the HUD Community Block Grant.

Ernst & Young, tasked with assisting GVI with compliance, monitoring, oversight and transparency for Key Grant Programs such as FEMA Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs; monitoring FEMA Community Disaster Loans and Commercial Insurance Claims. Some of their assignments include assisting V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) with addressing public assistance assignment for GVI applicants and private non-profit applicants. As of May 26, 2018, 237, project worksheets are totaling $1,055,057,798.30 that is funded by FEMA.

The timetable for completion of worksheets and target dates are currently unknown due to challenges such as cost estimates, developing scopes of work and finalizing worksheets due to administrative appeals. Completed projects should occur within 18 months of the start date. However, GVI can request an extension if necessary; according to Executive Director Collens.

“There are a lot of project worksheets that are going through VITEMA. I don’t believe that VITEMA is sufficiently staffed to review all of them promptly. Many of the small businesses are unable to sustain themselves without payment for their services,” said Sen. Marvin Blyden.

Similarly, Domingo Camarano, Vice President, AECOM shared an update on Emergency Home Repairs VI Program (EHRVI). To date, there are 1900 repaired homes. There are 10,000 applicants and 7,400 households eligible for repairs. “Hurricane season is upon us, how many homes out of the 10,000 are already completed?” asked Sen. Janelle Sarauw. Vice President Camarano stated that there are 1500 repaired homes with 5,000 more to be completed by the August 15, 2018 deadline.

“Considering that the deadline is in two months, what is the weekly average of completed home repairs?” inquired Sen. Blyden. In response Darryl Griffith, Executive Director, V.I. Housing Authority stated that there are 50 completed homes per week.

The value of AECOM’s contract is $186.6 million. Invoices were sent and reviewed by Witt O’Brien’s, Ernst & Young and others.  However, the FEMA-funded program has yet to receive payment for their services stated Vice President Camarano.  “Payments seems to be delayed because the federal guidelines are not designed to meet structural needs of homes built in the Virgin Islands.  Sheetrock, cleaning or repairing cisterns, and replacing downspouts are construction repairs that are heavily needed for the homes Territory-wide,” said Sen. Vialet.

Executive Director Griffith shared the financial breakdown of EHRVI funded through a FEMA Progress Worksheet (PW).  The first PW totals $186,650,000; this covers construction for in-home repairs. FEMA obligated the funds, and it is currently available. The second PW totals $152,899,348. This PW covers construction management, mobility, a call center, insurance, and program management. However, the monies were not obligated.

Separately, lawmakers received testimony on the Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, acting through the Commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement(“Lessor”) and Industrious Auto Repair, Inc. (“Lessee”).

Vincent Richards, Deputy Commissioner of Property and Printing Divisions of the Virgin Islands Department of Property and Procurement, shared the update. The lease agreement is for 20 years and is effective upon the approval of Governor Kenneth Mapp and the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. There will be an annual rent of $28,000 initially and is payable through monthly installments of $2,400. The terms of the lease include allowing a long-term tenant to invest and restore a government property damaged after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria and to expand existing operations.

Senators present are Kurt Vialet, Brian Smith, Marvin Blyden, Jean Forde, Tregenza Roach, Dwayne DeGraff, Janelle Sarauw, Novelle Francis and Positive Nelson.

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