Category: Housing, Public Works, Waste Management & Planning

ALL FOUR COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT PERMITS MOVES FORWARD

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ST. JOHN- Members of the Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, held a meeting at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on Wednesday, and voted favorably for Coastal Zone Management (CZM) permit Nos. CZJ-2-14(W), CZJ-14-16W, CZJ-24-16W, and CZJ-29-16W. All permits approved will be forwarded to the full body for further consideration.

“All of the CZM Permits are for continued use. Thus far, there hasn’t been any complaints or violations by the permittees. I do not see any issues with the CZM Permits that are before me today,” said Sen. Marvin Blyden.

CZM Permit No. CZJ-14-16W-allows continued use and occupancy of an existing 50’x6’ floating dock in Fish Bay, St. John. CZM Permit No. CZJ-29-16W- allows for the installation of a 70’x6’ floating dock in the nearshore area of Cruz Bay, St. John. CZM Permit No. CZJ-2-14W-allows continued use and occupancy of an existing 100’x5’ dock and 6500 ft2 of submerged lands surrounding the dock structure seaward of Lovango Cay, St. John. CZM Permit No. CZJ-24-16W-allows for the continued use and occupancy of an existing 12’x12’ rectangular floating swim platform, an existing 6’x4’ water access walkway and three swim buoys near Cruz Bay, St. John.

“The reason for the docks are significant. Some of the docks will alleviate stress for the elderly and disabled population,” said Sen. Brian Smith.”

Similarly, Gregory Richards, Representative for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) noted that DPNR supports all the CZM permits because the permittees were compliant over the years. “DPNR Commissioner and the St. John Committee of the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission has found these four CZM permits consistent with the policies and standards of VIC Title 12 Chapter 21 for the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Program.”

Sen. Sammuel Sanes asked, “At any time were there any complaints on any of these entities?” In response, Richards stated that although there was not a public outcry, in the past some residents submitted letters of complaint. “Was there a physical inspection conducted for the CZM permits?” asked Sen. Sanes. Richards stated that an environmental inspection was done prior.

As it pertains to CZM Permit No. 29-16W, Sen. Myron Jackson inquired about the community contributions of Low Key Watersports. Ann Marie Estes, President of Low Key Watersports, said, “The company donated snorkel gear for a Snorkeling Program that taught residents how to snorkel. Post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria Low Key covered 100% of medical and dental insurance for employees.”

Senators present are Marvin Blyden, Janette Millin Young, Sammuel Sanes, Myron Jackson, Janelle Sarauw, and Neville James.

COMMITTEE UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF HOUSING IN THE TERRITORY

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management & Planning, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, held a meeting on Wednesday, at the Capitol Building to receive an update on the status of the condition of housing communities, homelessness and emergency housing post-Hurricane Irma and Maria.

The St. Thomas-St. John District and the St. Croix public housing communities have suffered severe structural damages post-hurricanes. There were approximately 150 public housing apartments that were adversely affected by the storms. The breakdown is as follows: 130 public housing apartments damaged on St. Thomas and 20 wrecked on St. Croix. The estimated cost to repair them is $20 million.

“It hurts my heart that we do not have any emergency housing in the St. Thomas-St. John District. This is unacceptable. There are no homeless shelters or transitional housing on St. John for displaced residents. Residents who are homeless on St. John are relocated to housing on St. Thomas,” said Sen. Blyden.

“Do you believe we need more emergency housing in the St. Thomas-St. John District?” asked Sen. Blyden. Daryl Griffith, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) said, “Yes, unfortunately, the hurricanes highlight the fact that emergency housing stock in the Virgin Islands is inadequate to meet the needs of the population.”

“Can you expound on solutions for providing adequate emergency housing?” inquired Sen. Blyden. Griffith stated that VIHFA has plans to increase emergency housing in both districts. “There are plans to build two emergency apartment complexes on St. Thomas in Anna’s Retreat and Taarneberg, and a vacant multi-unit property will be rehabilitated on St. Croix,” said Director Griffith.

Separately, lawmakers were updated on actions taken by VIHFA and the Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) to assist newly homeless residents displaced as a result of Hurricane Irma and Maria. Director Griffith stated that due to the severity of the storms, a moratorium is in effect from September 6, 2017, to December 31, 2017.

“VIHFA offered mortgage customers four months’ moratorium on mortgage payments and property foreclosures to all of its borrowers impacted by the hurricanes. Regular payments are expected to resume on January 1, 2018. Residents are still responsible for paying accrued interest at the end of the loan term,” said Griffith. “HUD also offered rent abatements for multi-family Housing Communities.”

Similarly, Robert Graham, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority stated that HUD distributed 283 Tenant Protection Vouchers (TPV) to pay for the relocation of families formerly housed at Ras Valley and Tutu “Turnkey building. TPV assists residents in getting an apartment with private landlords in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the United States. Furthermore, there is an availability of 2,050 Housing Choice Vouchers. To date 1,000 were distributed on St. Thomas and 600 on St. Croix.

“Moving forward, what are the plans to rebuild Ras Valley and Turnkey?” asked Sen. Jean Forde. Director Graham said, “Long-term plans include demolishing obsolete public housing and building better housing with less density designed to meet the needs of families and seniors.”

Sen. Janette Millin Young inquired if the Tutu Hight Rise buildings are condemned. Director Griffith stated that the complex has structural damages, but it is not wholly destroyed.  Fifteen families are currently residing there. VIHFA is working on relocating them to a new home.

Senators also received an update from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (VIWMA). Geoffrey Watson, Engineering Manager for VIWMA, stated that damage assessments were completed on the wastewater and solid waste facilities and the results are not favorable.

“The sewer line had completely collapsed. As a result, there are sewer lines with leaks or blockages, while others have excess debris that has accumulated after the storms,” said Watson. Additionally, the wastewater facilities such as the LBJ Pump Station was moderately damaged. For the disposal of solid waste, there are bin sites that are operational, but there are challenges. Temporary bin sites are needed, there is a suspension of the house to house services as a result of displaced poles and power lines. Therefore, it hinders VIWMA from collecting and disposing of solid waste.

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COMMITTEE UPDATED ON THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS POST-HURRICANE IRMA AND HURRICANE MARIA

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St. Thomas – The Committee of Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to receive testimony from the Department of Public Works (DPW) on the status post-Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Lawmakers also considered and voted on a bill and CZM Permits.

 

Post-hurricane restoration efforts of DPW included removal of 130,000 cubic yards of debris on St. Croix while partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers for the debris removal of 50,000 cubic years in the St. Thomas-St. John District. Thus far, Rumina Construction removed 5,000 cubic yards of debris on Water Island; according to Nelson Petty, Commissioner Nominee of DPW.

 

On the St. Thomas-St. John District, the Army Corps of Engineers are responsible for guts maintenance, and roadside cleaning and DPW is working on that on St. Croix. The update on traffic lights includes the need to re-install a traffic light system that meets storm requirements. Despite the damage to traffic lights system at major intersections, some traffic lights are operational.

 

In addition to the DPW update, policymakers also considered Bill. No. 32-0008- as it relates to mooring and anchoring fees to provide for fee reductions for senior citizens and persons with a disability and veterans.

 

“This bill calls for a 50% reduction of fees for veterans and senior citizens who are boat owners.,” said Sen. Dwayne DeGraff. “This should not have a major financial impact on the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR).” However, the reduction of mooring fees will reduce the department’s ability to hire and manage daily operations stated Jean Pierre Oriol, Director of DPNR for the Division of Coastal Zone Management.

 

“How many years has it been since mooring fees implemented?” asked Sen. Blyden. In response Director Oriol, said, “It has been twenty-five years since the fees increased. It was imperative that the new fee schedule is implemented to begin collecting revenues to assist the Division of Environmental Enforcement in meeting its mandates.”  Sen. Blyden inquired if DPNR has data on the number of seniors who own boats. Director Oriol stated that DPNR does not collect information on individuals, but the fees are based on the class and size of the vessels.

 

Ultimately, senators voted to hold the bill in committee. Lawmakers stated that although they support seniors, the fee reduction needs to be examined holistically to make a decision that will have a positive outlook for all parties affected by the measure.

 

Separately, committee members voted and approved the following CZM Permits: CZT-2-16 (L&W)-allows for the continued use and occupancy of the existing reverse osmosis plant, CZX-1-17W- authorizes the maintenance dredging of the Krause Lagoon and Cross Channels to return to an operating depth of -36 ft. and, CZX-36-16 (L&W)-brings Gallows Bay Marine Terminal into compliance with the CZM Act and authorizes the demolition and reconstruction of the 3.020 square foot arrival building.

 

All approved items will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration. Committee Members present are senators Marvin Blyden, Janette Millin Young, Jean Forde, and Brian Smith. Non-Committee senators present are Dwayne DeGraff and Positive Nelson.

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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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COASTAL ZONE PERMITS MOVE FORWARD

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St. John – The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management & Planning, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, held a meeting on Wednesday, at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room to vote and approve several zoning permits.

One of the permits that lawmakers considered and approved was David McDaniel and Cheryl McDaniel (CZJ-20-11) – This permit allows the use and occupancy of a rectangular shaped floating dock with 153ft of water area. The floating dock is permitted to be in the water during the months of November through May. The structure is located seaward of parcel No. 200-C-2A Estate Fish Bay, St. John in Fish Bay.

McDaniel stated that the dock is going to be used seasonally between the months of November through May and it is solely for personal use. He added that the material used to build the dock is environmentally friendly. “The dock will be made with high density cubes that will have little impact on the shoreline. The materials used to build the dock are environmentally compatible. The floating dock will not rust, corrode or leak chemicals into the water,” added McDaniel.

Similarly, Assistant Director of Coastal Zone and Management of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Gregory Richards, stated the surrounding area is currently sandy and rocky. “The dock will not negatively impact the environment but will provide safe access to the boat. The permit will be issued for ten years and there will be a rental fee of a $1,000 that will eventually increase,” said Richards.

“If the permit is not renewed after ten years, can the public access it?” asked Sen. Dwayne DeGraff.  Richards stated that since the dock will be built on McDaniel’s property, anyone using the dock without permission will be trespassing.

“You stated that the dock will have no impact on the environment,” said Sen. Blyden. He asked, “Are you familiar with the materials used to build the dock?” In response, Richards said, “No, not particularly this one. However, there are other environmentally friendly docks in the territory.”

“What type of impact whether big or small will the dock have on the environment?” inquired Sen. Jean Forde.  McDaniel stated that the only impact will be the installation on the shoreline in which two sand screws will be placed on the shoreline above ground that will connect to the dock.

Sen. Brian Smith shared his suggestion to enhance safety measures to the dock that will deter crimes and boating accidents. “There needs to be a light around the dock that will prevent accidents and criminal activity,” he said.  McDaniel stated currently there is reflective tape on the dock.  However, the lights can be added.

Separately, lawmakers voted favorably for the following:

  • WVJD, LLC. (CZJ-22-16(W) – This permit allows installation of four swimming buoys spaced approximately 40 feet apart, and one (1) channel marker to create a 190-foot wide swimming area and a 38-foot wide dinghy access channel seaward of parcel No. 4A Estate Cruz Bay. In addition, this permit authorizes the installation of two (2) private moorings (Nos. 1 and 2 on the referenced drawings) a minimum of 15 feet off of the swimming area.
  • Lovango Shores, LLC. (CZJ-27-16(W) – This permit supersedes minor CZM Permit CZJ-O1-03W and allows the continued use and occupancy of an existing 5′ wide ‘L’ shaped dock (434’ 2” ft of water area). The dock is located in Pillsbury Sound, seaward of Parcel I Remainder, Lovango Cay, St. John, as depicted on OLG Map# D9-71 38-T002.

However, the following was held in committee:

  • Bill No. 32-0008- An Act amending title 25 Virgin Islands Code chapter 16, section 405, relating to mooring and anchoring fees to provide for fee reductions for senior citizens and persons with a disability and veterans

All items approved will be forwarded to the Committee of the Whole for further consideration.

 

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MAJOR CZM PERMITS SENT TO FULL BODY AND $150 MILLION ROADS PROJECTS ON THE MOVE

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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning, chaired by Senator Marvin A. Blyden, met Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix where two major permits were considered and updates on road projects were given by the Commissioner of Public Works, Gustav James.

Henry L. Feuerzeig with the law firm of Dudley, Topper and Feuerzeig, LLP, said that AT&T is asking the Committee to approve Permit CZX-31-16W which would constitute a renewal of Coastal Zone Permit No.CZX-28-94W.

According to Feuerzeig, CZX-28-94W was issued and approved in 1995 by the Legislature for a term of 20-years. The permit specifically authorized AT&T to drill eight (8) 5.75 inch cable conduits to a water depth of 45 feet and placement of cable on the ocean floor seaward of Plot No.4-A, 37BA of Estate Northside Quarter A, St. Croix consisting of 10.95 acres near the town of Frederiksted.

In his testimony, Jean –Pierre Oriol, the Director of Coastal Zone Management for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) said if the AT&T Permit is approved, it would allow for the continued use of the five conduits housing communication cables seaward of Plot No. 4-A Estate Northside, St. Croix.

According to Oriol, a rental fee of $250,000 per year, with increases beginning in the 6th year of the permit’s term, has been negotiated with the permittee for the occupancy of the submerged lands covered under the permit.
It was noted to the committee that the presence of the cable landing does not result in any negative impact to the water quality, nor does it affect other oceanographic characteristic. Furthermore, the renewal of the permit will maintain public access to the shoreline.

Permit CZX-2-16W issued to Garden Beach Recreation Association allows them to replace the wooden decking on the 120-foot long, by 8-foot wide approach bridge which has a 110-foot long by 9-foot wide “T” head dock.
CZM Director Oriol said if approved, the CZX-2-16W Permit will allow for the repair and use of a 120’x8’ pier with a “T” head seaward of Plot No.21 Estate Coakley Bay, St. Croix. Furthermore, as mitigation for the project, the permittee will be removing the un-colonized debris and piles from previously existing boats lift on the dock.

A rental fee of $7,500 per year, with increases beginning in the 6th year of the permit term, has been negotiated. The term of the permit is for 20 years.
Other testifiers were Amy Dempsey, Bioimpact, Inc; Vincent Colianni, Member of Law Firm, Colianni and Colianni; and Gregory Richards, Assistant Director DPNR-CZM;
The Committee voted in favor of both permits and sent them to the Full body for further consideration.

The Commissioner of Public Works said his department is currently managing numerous road projects at various stages of completion. He added that the value of these road projects exceeds $150 million. He along with his Assistant Commissioner Roan Creque, laid out their ambitious plans; the bidding process; and pointed to those roads that are in process and dates of completion both in the districts of St. Croix and St. Thomas.

Committee members at Monday’s meeting were senators: Marvin A. Blyden, Chairman; Sammuel Sanes; Neville A. James; Jean A. Forde; Janette Millin Young; Alicia “Chucky” Hansen and Brian A. Smith.

WASTE MANAGEMENT AND INSURANCE BILLS VOTED OUT OF FINANCE COMMITTEE

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ST. CROIX–The Committee on Finance, chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet, met Thursday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix. The committee took testimonies on two pieces of proposed legislations, Bill No.32-0066 and Bill No.32-0042.

Bill No.32-0066 proposed by Senator Marvin A. Blyden is an act making an appropriation of $500,000 from the Anti-Liter and Beautification Fund to the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (WMA) for the purchase of surveillance cameras to be installed at selected bin sites.

Senator Blyden said the appropriation was necessary due to individuals that are going to bin sites and are illegally dumping garbage in all sorts of manner without regards to littering. He added that it’s time we start to issue citations to violators and the best way we can do this is by installing surveillance cameras at the sites.

Testifying in support of Bill No.32-0066 was Vincent Ebbesen, Solid Waste Director, WMA, who said unmanned bin sites are open to the public for use throughout the day and night. He added that surveillance cameras will help the Authority monitor the unmanned bin sites for illegal dumping, unsanitary practices and other activities that pose a health risk.

According to Ebbesen, the cameras will help WMA assess fines for littering and illegal dumping activities. In addition, the cameras will allow WMA to monitor the bin sites for cleanliness by scheduling additional pickup services.

Clarina Modeste Elliott, Executive Assistant Commissioner of Finance, appearing on behalf of Commissioner Valdamier Collens said based on their review of the condition of the proposed funding source and the relevance of its use, they support the legislation as proposed. She pointed out that with the collection of these fines or fees generated would afford the opportunity for the replenishment and sustainability of the Anti-Liter and Beautification Fund.

Bill No. 32-0042, proposed by Senator Neville James, is an act repealing the Virgin Islands Code where necessary and adding a chapter entitled, “The Virgin Islands Insurance Holding Company System Regulatory Act.”

This repeal, according to Senator James, is to meet the accreditation standards established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and update the insurance laws of the Territory placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions, and providing greater and more effective protection to the policyholders of the Virgin Islands.

Gwendolyn Hall Brady, Director of the Division of Banking, Insurance and Financial Regulation said in her testimony that the territory is required to adopt Bill No.32-0042 as part of the requirements to obtain accreditation by the NAIC.

Director Brady said the NAIC is the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. Territories, which includes the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to Director Brady, accreditation is the designation given by NAIC to a state or territory that has demonstrated that it has met and continues to meet all required legal, financial and organizational standards. A significant aspect of the Bill pointed out Director Brady, is that it gives to the Commissioner of Insurance the authority to examine, not only the insurance companies within the holding company system, but all of the insurer’s affiliates that are also a part of the holding company system whether or not they engage in the business of insurance.

Director Brady drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that, the Territory’s adoption of Bill No.32-0042 is vital in the context that because Guardian Insurance Company, one of the leading insurance companies in the Territory, is part of an insurance holding company system and is at present the Territory’s only domestic, multi-state insurer, meaning that Guardian is domiciled in the U.S. jurisdiction and is also licensed to conduct business in other U.S. jurisdictions.

Other testifiers at Thursday’s meeting; for WMA was Rasheed Hodge, Network Administrator and for Banking and Insurance were: Atty. Glendina Mathew, Assistant Director and Legal Counsel; Atty. Monica Williams Carbon, Division Legal Counsel; and Cheryl Charleswell, Chief Financial Service Examiner.

The Committee voted in favor of both Bills and sent them to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Committee members in attendance were: Chairman Senator Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden, Neville A. James, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Brian A. Smith, and Dwayne M. DeGraff. Non-Committee member was Senator Novelle E. Francis Jr.

 

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COMMITTEE ON HOUSING PUBLIC WORKS, HOUSING, WASTE MANAGEMENT & PLANNING CONSIDERS COASTAL ZONING MANAGEMENT PERMITS

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ST. THOMAS— Members of the Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management & Planning met on Wednesday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall. Chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, the meeting was held to consider CZM permits for the island of St. Thomas.

The following Coastal Zoning permits were considered:

RC Hotels VI, Inc. (CZT-3-16W) – to allow the Permittee the continued use and occupancy of an existing 8” diameter x 130’ long seawater intake line to the RO Plant. The line extends seaward of Parcel Nos. 1&3 Estate Nazareth, St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. The permit was passed favorably and will move for consideration to the Full Body.

Reef Ecology Foundation (CZT-05-15W) – This permit allows the continued use and occupancy of the permanent moorings for day use only at frequently used dive site locations in the territorial waters surrounding the Island of St. Thomas and St. John. The permit was passed favorably and will move for consideration to the Full Body.

Anchorage Condominium Assn. (CZT-10-16W) – This permit allows the continued use and occupancy of a 120-foot, three-inch (3”) seawater intake line which services its reverse osmosis plant. In addition, this permit allows for the continued use and occupancy of the submerged lands for six (6) swimming buoys. This activity is located seaward of parcel No. 8-57-4 Estate Nazareth, St. Thomas. The permit was passed favorably and will move for consideration to the Full Body.

St. Thomas Yacht Club (CZT-4-16(W) – This permit supersedes major Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZT-12-89(W), and allows for the continued use and occupancy of a 110-9” x 7’-8” dock with a 39’-6” x 8’-6” “1”, a 335 ft2 concrete bulkhead with a length of 58 linear feet, 3,500 ft2 of submerged land surrounding the dock and (1) one wooden pile. The dock is located seaward of Parcels Nos. 8-1-1 & 8-58 Estate Nazareth, St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. The permit was passed favorably and will move for consideration to the Full Body.

Sanctuary Holdings, LLC (CZT-25-16W) – This permit allows for the installation of eight (8) moorings in two phases. Phase One includes moorings numbered I 4 on Exhibit 8; Phase Two includes moorings numbered 5—8 on Exhibit B. This activity is located seaward of Parcel No. 23, Estate Frenchman’s Bay, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. The permit was passed favorably and will move for consideration to the Full Body.

True Crew VI, LLC (CZT-33-16W)-This permit allows for the installation of a private mooring and the operation of a 37-foot “food boat’ known as Pizza Ri. This activity will occur at 1818’33.464”N / 6449’54.955”W in the Christmas Cove area of Jersey Bay, St. Thomas. The permit was passed favorably and will move for consideration to the Full Body.

Before concluding the meeting, Sen. Blyden encouraged everyone to have a safe and wonderful Easter holiday.

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COMMITTEE RECEIVES TESTIMONY ON HOMELESSNESS AND CONDITION OF HOUSING COMMUNITIES IN TERRITORY

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management & Planning, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden met on Wednesday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to receive status updates and discuss challenges within our territory.

Louise Peterson, Executive Director of the Methodist Training and Outreach Center and President of the V.I. Continuum of Care began her testimony describing homelessness in our territory as a “revolving door crisis”. This crisis can be directly attributed to a variety of underlying, unmet needs — physical, economical, and social.

The Continuum of Care program was designed to promote community-wide goals to end homelessness; provide funding to quickly rehouse homeless individuals (including unaccompanied youths) and families while minimizing trauma and dislocation to those persons; promote access to, and effective utilization of mainstream programs; and optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness. The program is composed of transitional housing, permanent housing, supportive services, and the Homeless Management Information Services (HMIS).

On Friday, January 27, 2017, the COC conducted the required count of the sheltered andunsheltered homeless in our territory. The unsheltered homeless reflected an unduplicated total of three hundred seven (307), individuals, and the sheltered homeless shows sixty-six (66) individuals. The 2017 demographics of the homeless population has remained relatively consistent with previous counted years; with 90% Blacks/African Americans making up majority of the homeless count, 76% with Non-Hispanic, and 96% comprising of males. “The population that is increasing in homelessness are ages 0-17. They are categorized under youths without parents or unaccompanied minors. On St. Thomas, there are 39 individuals, 15 on St. John and 7 on St. Croix,” said Petersen.

Andrea Shillingford, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, noted that provides services to the homeless and poor in the territory through its shelters, soup kitchens and street outreach programs, which serve approximately 800 persons annually. Bethlehem House Shelters for the Homeless provide safe, drug free environments and two daily meals to temporarily homeless individuals. The agency’s soup kitchens and outreach programs provide meals and clothing to members of the community in need. A free medical clinic, staffed by volunteer doctors, provides medical and dental screening and treatment to the homeless population on the second Saturday of every month.

The clinic is held at the St. Thomas shelter. Homeless individuals and families that reach out to Catholic Charities for assistance often have endured severe hardships such as eviction from housing by relatives or friends, job loss, family disputes, illness, physical, sexual and emotional trauma, and hunger. Most of these hardships may be attributed to a limited education. People who come to Catholic Charities start out with an emergency period of thirty (30) days, where once they are initially stabilized, they can begin to address many of the underlying problems that may have led to their homelessness. Exec. Director Shillingford added, “We continue to have discussions with the Virgin Islands Housing Authority to determine the availability of appropriate housing units for those participating in the Home at Last program.”

Robert Graham, CPM and Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Authority, stated that the VIHA is enthusiastic to partner with all stakeholders who desire to work together to improve the living conditions of Virgin Islanders. The VIHA Transition Agreement Action Plan, was designed by HUD to ensure the sustainability of the authority and address any unresolved performance and compliance deficiencies. “Since several tasks required more time to complete than the original document allowed, HUD extended the timeline to complete unresolved tasks.

Although VIHA expects to significantly complete the tasks during the extension period, the enhanced monitoring by HUD will continue through the HUD report card called Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS). Currently, VIHA has a score of (77) on HUD’s PHAS report card,” said Graham.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8, will experience a $300 million reduction according to recent reports on the federal budget. Coupled with rent increases, this could result in the loss of thousands of vouchers and threaten currently housed families with homelessness.

VIHA receives approximately $14 million annually that provides housing assistance to approximately 1,600 families and seniors. If the average annual subsidy is $9,000 per household, we could lose 111 families for every $1 million in subsidy cuts to the voucher program. Currently, over 838 landlords participate in the program. The public housing operating fund covers day-to-day operational and maintenance expenses not covered by resident rents.

The reported cut to HUD’s operating fund of $600 million is a 13% percent reduction from last year’s funding, and approximately 72% of what is needed. However, for VIHA the operating budget is $25 million in two components; $21 million is federal funding and $4 million is from tenant rent. Thus, a 13% reduction in HUD operating funding would reduce VIHA’s operating budget by $2.7 million.

According to their physical needs assessment, over $333 million is needed to effectively operate and maintain the old public housing inventory. Through the Capital fund program, the Authority has $11.4 million available, with $6.7 million expended for capital projects and operations. Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen urged the VIHA to resume their once vigorous approach to clean up the communities overrun with criminal activity and efforts to make the residents safer. “The residents of William’s Delight are living in fear. Students have to walk through vacant places like Chabert, totally unprotected, just to get their education.”

Daryl Griffith, Acting Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority, presented status updates on the Emergency Housing, Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Affordable Housing Programs in the territory. Acting Director Griffith noted that there is a serious need for more emergency and affordable housing within the territory, in addition to listing the current capital projects underway. The meeting concluded with a brief summarization of the VIHFA’s 2nd Amendment to its 3-Year plan.

The measure will be presented at a later time.

 

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SENATE COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATE ON CAPITAL PROJECTS FROM WASTE MANAGEMENT, DPNR AND PUBLIC WORKS

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ST. THOMAS The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning, chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden met on Wednesday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall to receive testimony and current status reports from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (WMA), the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and the Department of Public Works.

Roger E. Merritt, Jr., Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, assured the body that under his direction, “The Authority will implement several strategies to overcome our current fiscal constraints.” Merritt Jr., accompanied by Chief Operating Officer Steve Aubin and Chief Engineer Jim Grum, indicated that a significant percentage of their General Fund appropriation is used to maintain critical operational costs for public health, safety and compliance regulations.

The Waste Management Authority noted their appreciation for the $1.7 million appropriation by the 31st Legislature, which delayed the implementation of tipping fees and was used to pay outstanding fees to contractors, provide public hearings and informational handouts for the public. The Public Services Commission (PSC) approved the petition for tipping fees on solid waste collection and disposal services on April 20, 2016. The Authority expects to generate $6.9 million from this plan, that cannot begin until the end of Fiscal Year 2017, due to additional scale-house modifications, weighing scale, compactor repairs and technological systems needed.

The PSC also approved a petition submitted by the WMA to collect special waste fees on electronic waste, freon, lubricating oil and fluorescent light bulbs. The Authority anticipates they will be ready to collect special waste fees by the end of Fiscal Year 2017 and expects to generate $1.2 million annually. The Wastewater User Fee (Sewer Fee), which is collected with property taxes, falls short of its expected collection of $3 million annually. To date, the WMA has not received any funds for Fiscal Year 2017, collected $576,000 total for FY 2015 and $856,000 total for FY 2016.

Last fiscal year, a petition was submitted to the PSC to for various miscellaneous wastewater operation fees, specifically overdue septage disposal fees. The fees are expected to cover costs of services in an effort to expand and improve services offered to all residents in our territory. In recent news, the District Court approved the motion to remove the remaining wastewater treatment plants from the 1984 Consent Decree, which brings the WMA closer to full termination of the decree.  “The Authority continues to search and apply for grants to upgrade the wastewater infrastructure, improve solid waste operations and eliminate public unmanned bin sites in the territory,” stated Executive Director Merritt, Jr.

On St. Croix, the Anguilla Landfill is in the process of stabilizing the final slopes of the site, utilizing approximately 160 tons of waste per day and awaiting approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a redesign that will develop 2 years worth of airspace available for new waste placement. Upon completion of capital improvements required by the Consent Decrees, the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas will be approved by the EPA for 3 years of airspace available for new waste placement.

The Committee on Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning received testimony from Commissioner Dawn Henry of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on their ongoing initiatives. The Division of Environmental Protection (EP) recently implemented a new application process that requires all pest companies and applicators to obtain a permit before purchasing Restricted Use Pesticides and specifying where they will be applied in the territory.

The EP officially manages the territory’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program and receives $4.8 million annually from the U.S. EPA to assist in improving the territory’s municipal wastewater facilities and storm water systems. To date, the improvements made thus far have resulted in a reimbursement of $7 million to the Department and recoupment of $1.5 million in indirect costs. The Division of Fish and Wildlife received funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Services for repairs in St. Croix to the Gallows Bay, Altona Lagoon, and Frederiksted docks. All repairs are estimated to be completed by the end of FY 2017. The Division of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) joined efforts with the Virgin Islands Port Authority to expedite the application process by making forms available online.

Commissioner Gustav James of the Department of Public Works provided updates on the status of the major capital projects in progress within the territory. Over 25 major roadway projects are in progress or slated to begin in both districts, notably Veterans Drive and the Moravian Highway on St. Thomas, Bordeaux Mountain and Fish Bay on St. John, along with Mahogany Road and Hamm’s Bluff on St. Croix. Commissioner James concluded his testimony by briefly outlining the 5 major non-road projects in progress, such as the St. Croix Fish Market and Fort Christian on St. Thomas.

While commending the testifiers and their employees for their hard work and commitment within their respective agencies, Members of the 32nd Legislature raised serious concerns with the lack of reasonable compensation for employees of the Government of the Virgin Islands.

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