Category: Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy & Environmental Protection

PLASTIC BAG BAN EXTENDS TO INCLUDE PLASTIC STRAWS

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ST. THOMAS– The Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy & Environmental Protection, chaired by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, convened on Wednesday to receive testimony amending the plastic bag ban to include disposable plastic straws and other measures.

Amendment No. 32-740 for Bill No. 32-0220, an Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 8 sought to extend the ban on plastic bags to include disposable, plastic drinking straws and to allow the sale of reusable drinking straws. Bill sponsor, Sen. Janelle Sarauw, introduced Amendment No. 32-740 to insert a definition for plastic tubular stirrer, prohibit businesses from purchasing and importing plastic disposable straws and stirrers. The measure proposed excluded hospitals, nursing homes and medical supply retailers. “As small as straws may be, they leave a lasting impact on our marine environment. We have already lost 80 percent of our coral reef cover in the Caribbean region,” stated Sen. Sarauw. The measure proposed does not apply to hospitals, nursing homes and medical supply retailers.

“I understand the concerns expressed about imported products with straws attached but excluding those items in this amendment does not address the problem at hand,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach. He commended the sponsors and the amendments brought forth in today’s hearing and recommended that the language of the measure and any amendment should be consistent with its purpose. Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly stated, “This amendment is a step in the right direction and an opportunity for us to change our footprint and reduce the amount of plastic waste generated in our territory.”

Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen previously voted against the bill, citing lack of community input and unclear language for her decision. “The issue regarding our environment is always viable, but it must be done with caution,” she stated. Sen. Marvin Blyden added, “I agree that the Bill needs more work in regard to enforcement within our communities, as plastic bags are still being offered to residents.”

Amendment 32-740 was forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Bill No. 32-0204, an Act amending Title 12 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 16A by redefining “government agency” and by defining “communications provider”, and requiring that a government agency that installs, relocates, or improves conduits within the public rights-of-way, including a government agency that receives federal funding for such work, ensure that the conduit is of sufficient size to accommodate use by multiple communication providers for their use in providing service, or to permit a communications provider to install its own conduit at its option and cost. “This policy is not new, it has been implemented across the nation in an attempt to reduce the costs of deploying utilities and underground construction,” added Sen. O’Reilly. “It also expands broadband access to rural areas in our community.”

The government agency must also place handholes and manholes for fiber access and pulling with respect to such conduit, must provide reasonable notice to communication providers, and must ensure that any requesting communication provider has access to the conduit for a charge not to exceed a cost-based rate. “I don’t understand the need for this bill based on the research conducted, there is some degree of suggestion that this would impact VInGn and I must err on the side of caution,” expressed Sen. Forde. Members present favorably approved and forwarded Bill No. 32-0204 to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

Committee members present at Wednesday’s hearing were Chairman Sammuel Sanes, Senators Jean Forde, Marvin Blyden, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Tregenza Roach, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen and Janette Millin Young.

 

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BILL TO BAN PLASTIC STRAWS HELD IN COMMITTEE

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy and Environmental Protection Consumer Affairs an Culture chaired by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday and voted to hold in committee Bill No. 32-0220 to extend the ban on plastic bags to include disposable drinking straws and to allow the sale of reusable drinking straws.

“Banning plastic straws is not the only way to save the environment. However, it is a step forward. Our quality of life is related to how we manage our waste. I have engaged in numerous beach clean-ups, and the plastic straws are the hardest to clean up,” said Sen. Janelle Sarauw, Sponsor of the bill. “We have to educate the community on the long-term effects that plastic straws have on the environment.”

According to the study of National Park Service and Clemson University collaborated with the NOAA Marine Debris Program to collect and analyze beach sediments and found that the V.I. National Park had the highest rate of microplastics; totaling 444 pieces of microplastics per kg of sand.

“Can you expound on microplastics?” asked Sen. Marvin Blyden. In response, Kitty Edwards, Education & Outreach Coordinator for the Coastal Zone Management Division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) said, “As plastics spend time outside they slowly break-up into smaller pieces called microplastics that marine life can mistake for food; sometimes with fatal results.”

Sen. Tregenza Roach inquired about alternatives to plastic straws. Harith Wickerman, President of Island Green Living Association, stated that compostable straws or paper straws made with the environmentally friendly material, reusable straws made of metal, glass or bamboo and Lolistraw which is an edible drinking straw made from seaweed.

“How will businesses absorb the cost of using alternative straws?” asked Sen. Janette Millin Young? Edwards stated that the upside to this measure is that straw replacements are not a necessity. Straws are a luxury item. Businesses do not have to replace them. Sen. Sanes stated that for some people with medical challenges may need to drink out of a straw.

Lawmakers stated that amendments are necessary for this measure to ensure consumers are not adversely affected. Sen. Roach said, “Businesses may save money by not buying straws, but it can create a financial burden for consumers who will not see a change in the price of products and services. The consumer may have to pay for straw if they want one. This problem is similar to the plastic bag ban.” Co-Sponsor of the Bill Sen. Myron Jackson added that this is a concern because the intent of this bill is not supposed to become a financial burden to consumers.

Separately, senators also received testimony on Bill No. 32-0062 – An Act amending title 12 Virgin Islands Code, by adding a chapter 3A establishing the Community and Heritage Tree Law of the Virgin Islands.

“This legislation intends to maintain public trees, establish a Virgin Islands Tree Board, and pruning or removal of trees that are hazardous to the environment. It also provides a guide to have an urban forest in planting trees on the roadside,” said Sen. Jackson, Sponsor of the Bill.

Sean Krigger, Acting Director and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer for the V.I. Historic Preservation Office of DPNR offered recommended changes to the measure. “The Department requests that clarification on what the assistance of enforcement to the Department of Agriculture under the provision of the bill or to remove Section 145 “Enforcement” subsection (b) which requires the Territorial Forester to request assistance from DPNR in the enforcement chapter.”

Similarly, Commissioner Carlos Robles of the V.I. Department of Agriculture (VIDOA) stated that amendments to the bill are necessary because DOA cannot sustain fiscal responsibility. “The bill as proposed places the responsibility for determining the funding amount on VIDOA and this is a challenge. We are willing to work with the Governor’s staff, the Office of Management and Budget, the Dept. of Finance and this body to accomplish this mandate.”

Senators present are Sammuel Sanes, Janelle Sarauw, Janette Millin Young, Myron Jackson, Tregenza Roach, and Marvin Blyden.  Photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media                                           ### 

SENATE PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES POSTPONEMENT OF MEETINGS DUE TO IRMA

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ST. THOMAS – Senate President Myron D. Jackson announces that legislative meetings scheduled for the week of September 4 to 8 are postponed, due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma. The public will be informed of new dates. A final determination regarding the Legislative Session scheduled for September 8 will be made once the storm passes and its impacts are determined, he said.

Regarding the operations of the Legislature on all three islands, legislative employees are expected to report to work for 8 a.m. on Tuesday to secure their offices and, upon completion, will be allowed to leave at noon to continue their hurricane preparations at home. Casual wear is encouraged.

Based on reports from the National Hurricane Center and VITEMA, President Jackson said the Virgin Islands will likely be impacted by wind, rain, and ocean surge, particularly in the northern areas.

“As those reports are received I shall inform the public, all senators and our staff as to the operations of the Legislature,” he said. “All persons should therefore carefully monitor the media, including LEGIT TV – which can be accessed on Channel 5 throughout the territory, for announcements which may inform as to the operational status of the Legislature during the affected period.”

President Jackson said that the Legislature shall operate during this period only as weather conditions permit.

“Should the weather dictate the cessation of our operation for safety and health concerns, those decisions shall be made promptly and specific announcements shall be made,” he said. “I offer a prayer that all persons in the Virgin Islands, the Leeward and Windward Islands, and elsewhere be spared from Hurricane Irma. Please look to protect your families, friends, and properties be safe.”

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TWO-YEAR MORATORIUM AND LOCAL VENDOR MEASURE HELD IN COMMITTEE

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St. Croix–The Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy and Environmental Protection, chaired by Senator Sammuel Sanes, met on Friday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room on St. Croix to receive testimony on several measures.

Bill No. 32-0062, proposed by Sen. Myron Jackson, sought to amend Title 12, Virgin Islands Code, by establishing the Community and Heritage Tree Law of the Virgin Islands. “The purpose of Bill No. 32-0062 is to protect our heritage trees, native trees and cultural landscape,” said Jackson. ‘Heritage tree’ means any tree, public or private, which is determined pursuant to this chapter to be of intrinsic value to the public because of its species, size, age, location, ecological importance, historical and cultural significance, aesthetic value, economic benefit, special character, or community benefit.

“It will become vital that homeowners and businesses replant native trees, to prevent losing an integral part of our natural heritage as the Virgin Islands continues to develop as an urban and commercial center,” stated Mario A. Francis, Chairman of the U.S. Virgin Islands Urban & Community Forestry Council, Inc. The measure was held in Committee for further consideration.

Bill No. 32-0133, proposed by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, sought to amend Title 27, VI Code by mandating the Commissioner of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs to impose a 2-year moratorium on the issuance of new licenses and establishes a limit on the number of gas station licenses issued on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Devin Carrington Esq., Commissioner of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, stated that the measure would be more effective by addressing the proximity of gas stations to residential areas. The bill was held in Committee for further consideration.

Bill No. 32-0131, also proposed by Sen. Sanes, sought to revise Title 30, chapter 5, section 116 of the VI Code, authorizing the electric utility company to give local suppliers priority in the purchase of supplies, material, equipment and contractual services. The measure was held in Committee for further consideration.

Bill No. 32-0037, an Act authorizing the Government of the Virgin Islands through its departments, bureaus, agencies and instrumentalities to implement flextime or staggered time at its discretion. Proposed by Senators Jean Forde and Myron Jackson, the measure provides extended service hours without increasing personnel costs or impairing the services and functions of any departments, bureaus, agencies or instrumentalities of the executive branch. The measure was held in Committee at the call of the Chairman.

Committee members present were: Chairman Sammuel Sanes, Senators Marvin Blyden, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Jean Forde, and Tregenza Roach. Non-Committee members were Senators Myron Jackson and Brian Smith.

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NOISE POLLUTION ACT FORWARDED TO COMMITTEE ON RULES AND JUDICIARY

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ST. CROIX—The Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy and Environmental Protection, chaired by Senator Sammuel Sanes, met Wednesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room to receive testimonies and consider a measure regarding noise pollution.

Bill No. 32-0011, proposed by Sen. Novelle E. Francis, Jr., amends Title 19 Virgin Islands Code, part VI, chapter 62. The measure clarified the definition of noise disturbance and permissible sound levels for commercial, non-commercial vehicles and motorcycles, and addressed sound levels for music emanating from cars and business establishments.

The measure eliminates the requirement for special permits for weekend activities and as amended, mandates that “After 11:00 p.m. and before 7:00 a.m., all owners of nightclubs, taverns or bars must not make, cause or permit to be made or caused continuous or non-continuous noise or sound from live entertainment that exceeds an interior rating of 90 decibels (90 dBA) over a three minute time period on an approved sound meter when measured within the establishment at a distance of 100 ft. from the source”.

Penalties for failure to comply with the Noise Pollution Act are as follows:

• Any person who refuses to submit to a sound level test when requested to do so by a law enforcement officer is guilty of a civil offense punishable by a fine of $250.

• Any person convicted of violating section 2042 of this chapter is guilty of a civil offense punishable by a fine of $500.

• Any person is subject to a fine of $1,000 for that violation and each subsequent violation.

The owner of any business at which a sound or sounds emanate that constitute a noise disturbance or exceed the noise limit is subject to a fine of $250 for the first violation, a $500 fine for the second, a $1,000 fine for the third and each violation thereafter. Upon a third violation, the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, in addition to imposing a fine of $1,000, shall call the person before the DLCA to show cause why the person’s business license should not be suspended or revoked.

The measure authorizes the DLCA and the Department of Health as entities in conjunction with the Virgin Islands Police Department to determine whether violations have taken place and enforce the Noise Pollution Control Act. Mark A. Corneiro, Deputy Chief of Police provided testimony in support of the measure and encouraged input by the Attorney General’s Office to address any issues that may put the VIPD at a disadvantage.

Howard A. Forbes, Sr., Acting Director of the Division of Environmental Enforcement of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources informed the members of the body that the Division has no jurisdiction on noise pollution, nor the equipment and specialized training required to handle noise complaints, but will provide the VIPD any assistance with the source of the complaint.

Dr. Wincess Gentius, Clinical Doctor of Audiology, represented the Dept. of Health in her testimony. “The context of sound is subjective,” she stated. “Although the specifics of Bill No. 32-0011 are timely, the Department of Health is unable to support these enforcement efforts. It is imperative that the framework of this legislation include enforcement tools equipment and staffing in order to for this bill to have a real impact in the lives of our residents”.

The Committee voted in favor of the Bill as amended and sent it to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Committee members at Wednesday’s meeting were: Chairman Senator Sammuel Sanes, Marvin Blyden, Jean Forde, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, and Janette Millin-Young. Non-Committee members present were Senators Brian Smith and Novelle Francis, Jr.

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WAPA GIVES UPDATE ON BASE RATE

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St. Croix–The Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy and Environmental Protection, chaired by Senator Sammuel Sanes, met on Friday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.

The Committee heard from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority’s (WAPA) management team regarding the proposed base rate increase, status of Smart Meter residential installation, and Smart Meter reading practices. Accompanying WAPA’s team were the Chairwoman of WAPA’s Board and the Executive Director, Public Service Commission (PSC).

The Committee also heard from Juan F. Luis Hospital’s (JFLH) Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer, and Waste Management Authority (WMA). Items discussed were, amount owed to WAPA and measures being taken to reduce the debt to the utility.

Julio Rhymer, Executive Director, WAPA, said in his testimony that, the Authority filed for a base rate increase from the PSC because at the time, the Authority was experiencing a severe liquidity problem and lacked adequate cash to pay for operations, to the point that it became necessary to postpone payments to certain vendors, one of which, a former fuel supplier, has sued the Authority.

According to Rhymer, the Authority’s cash shortage at the time stemmed from several factors—declining sales, large government receivable and increased cost of operation. He pointed out to the Committee that the Authority wanted approximately $14.5 million that would have given it the much-needed cash infusion to continue with its operation.

The action taken by PSC to approve the base rate increase and then rescinded on it said Rhymer, has stunned and is a concern to investors. In so doing, the Moody’s Investor Services downgraded the electric system senior and subordinate electric system revenue bonds.

In respect to the status of Smart Meter residential installation( AMI),  Rhymer stated that the AMI is designed to, among other things, automate the meter reading process, improve the accuracy of meter reads, expedite billing, permit remote switching of a customers’ electric services at the meter, minimize meter tampering through a system of alarms, permit pay-as-you-go service delivery, and allow customers to monitor and adjust their consumption based on real time information about electric use and cost.

Elizabeth Armstrong, Chair, Governing Board, WAPA said in her testimony that WAPA’s financial outlook is directly tied to the revenues generated by the rates it charges its customers for electrical and water services. She added that, beginning at the end of this year or early 2018 when the first set of new generators are expected on island, and continuing through the next several years, WAPA will bring in reliable, efficient generation capacity to the Randolph Harley power plant in St. Thomas.

Armstrong told Committee members that the Board believes that its plan provides the opportunity for WAPA to improve on the past, while supporting the mission of the lowest cost, safe and reliable power for the rate payer.

In an update, as to money owed to WAPA, Roger Merritt, Jr., Executive Director, VIWMA said that, as of February 28, 2017, they owed WAPA $414,324, and that they will be remitting payment in the amount of $240, 000 for the month of February by March 31, 2017, leaving a balance of $174,324.

Bernard Wheatley, Chief Executive Officer, SRMC said, despite the fact that SRMC is in an extremely critical financial position, they have remained committed to making payments to WAPA and have done so continuously over the past year. SRMC has made payments totaling approximately $76,000 to WAPA in Fiscal Year 2017. SRMC remits the portion of its allotment that is line itemed for WAPA as soon as it receives its monthly allotment in full. According to Wheatley, their current outstanding obligation to WAPA is $8,166,743.

Richard Evangelista, Acting Chief Executive Office JFLH said, current balance to WAPA is $10,567,660. Year to date for Fiscal Year 2017, the hospital has paid WAPA $136,666. He added that the hospital’s current fiscal condition does not allow the hospital to pay its current WAPA bill in part or full. As of today’s date, the hospital has not yet received its February 2017 monthly allotment.

Donald Cole Executive Director, PSC said based on testimony presented in its meetings, it would appear that the AMI/AMR technology is sound; however, consumer service deployment protocols appear to have short-comings resulting in an excessive number of estimated billing complains and concerns.

Other testifiers were Tim Lessing, Chief Financial Officer, JLH, Johann Clendenin, Commissioner, PSC, and Frank Taylor, Jr., St. Resident/Rate Payer.

Committee members at Friday’s hearing were, Chairman Sammuel Sanes, Jean Forde, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Tregenza Roach and Janette Millin Young. Non-Committee members were Senators, Kurt Vialet, Brian Smith, Positive Nelson, and Novelle Francis, Jr.

Government Services, Consumer and Veterans Affairs Committee To Consider Several Bills

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ST. JOHN—The Committee on Government Services, Consumer and Veterans Affairs, chaired by Sen. Justin Harrigan Sr., met at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on St. John Monday evening, to receive a status update on the limited barge services between St. Thomas and St. John.
Sen. Justin Harrigan Sr., said that the meeting was necessary to discuss the limited services and the subsequent “impact on Virgin Islands residents, its businesses and overall economy. It’s important that these issues be aired,” he said.
Representatives from various government entities as well as the private sector shared some of their challenges.
Arlene Chalwell, Deputy Police Chief for the St. John District Leander Jurgen Zone-D Command, said in her testimony that the limited services delayed the department’s ability to transport supplies, equipment and vehicles that allowed the department to provide sufficient safety to communities as well as basic services like providing police reports and records.
“Moving forward, it is imperative that proactive measures are implemented to prevent such dire situations from reoccurring in the near future,” she said.
Sen. Janette Millin Young said that she understood the impact to be “a bread and butter issue” as the tourism product in St. John is the main source of economic support. Although the service was not halted,” she said, “it slowed down.” When we’re talking about an island that is separated by a body of water, then you’re sort of paralyzed.”
Though Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Newton, Supervisor of Marine Safety Detachment in St. Thomas U.S. Coast Guard was unable to attend, she provided a statement that was read into the record.
“The Coast Guard’s priorities are to safeguard the lives of the people who utilize these vessels, ensure the safety of the maritime transportation system and help facilitate safe maritime commerce in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coast Guard Marine Inspectors remain committed to performing any required inspections in a timely manner to ensure the vessels are structurally sound and meet the regulatory standards for a certificated vessel to safely transport passengers and vehicles,” she said in her testimony.
Carlton Dowe, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority also testified. During the discussion, Dowe noted that while he understood the frustration, providing a solution like expansion would take time.
“Maintaining these facilities is not easy,” he said. “Unlike some islands in the Caribbean where you can wake up tomorrow and tear out a mangrove or fill in a pond, in the United States Virgin Islands,
it [doesn’t] happen that way. We must go through a process,” he said, naming some of the many facets including the Army Core of Engineers, fisheries and the Coast Guard. “By the time that process takes place I will guarantee you years have gone by.”
“The Port Authority’s board is concerned about the lack of sufficient barge service and the impact it has caused on our community, our tourism product and our port operations,” he said. “We have done our best to respond to the public outcry by appearing on local radio talk shows to explain the reasons for lack of service.”
“We hope to have some resolution to this issue in the very near future, and we will keep the public abreast of any new developments,” Dowe said.
Committee members, Senators Myron D. Jackson, Positive T. A. Nelson. Tregenza A. Roach, and Janette Millin Young were present. Non-committee members, Jean A. Forde and Almando “Rocky” Liburd were also present.

 

Ph: (340) 774-2478; Fax: (340) 774-2495; email: media@legvi.org
Press Release for August 22, 2016 150822-STJ

 

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