Category: Press Releases

Transportation/Infrastructure Chair: Safe and reliable transportation is a must

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ST. THOMAS, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – On Monday, April 15, the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications met to hear testimony from the Department of Public Works on the status of infrastructure and public transportation services in the territory.

Committee Chair, Senator Marvin A. Blyden, stressed the role the roads and public transportation system plays in our lives in order to highlight the importance of keeping them maintained.

“The study of human civilization shows us that roads are the physical links that bind communities together. From everyday transportation, to commerce, to healthcare and other emergency services, the functioning of a modern society depends on a solid road system and a solid public transportation system”

In his testimony, Commissioner Nominee Nelson Petty Jr. detailed multiple active infrastructure projects totaling $176 million. These projects include the Veteran’s Drive project, the Melvin D. Evans Highway project, Carlton Road repavement and drainage, rehabilitation of Sion Valley Hill, paving of Moravian Highway, replacement of Scott Free Bridge, emergency repairs of Fish Bay Road in St. John, the Mainstreet Enhancement Project, and more. Overall, the Department of Public Works expects to receive approximately $460 million in funding through a combination of local non-disaster funding and federal funding from FEMA, the Department of Interior, GARVEE bonds, the Federal Highway Administration and HUD CDBG-DR grants.

To increase the presence and reliability of the VITRAN bus system,the Commissioner Nominee and Transportation Planner Dennis Chance explained how 10 medium buses had been ordered and that there were plans to hire more drivers.

Noting the considerable interest in the topic, Commissioner Nominee Petty explained his opinion on the way the GVI accepts private roads in order to repair them. He noted there are provisions that allow the Government to make repairs without having them deeded, but the larger issue was a matter of funding. Unless funding sources are identified, he recommends against accepting private roads. Should a source be found, the Department of Public Works can evaluate the request appropriately.

Senators in attendance also pressed for a resolution of the traffic light issue on St. Thomas and learned that the delay is the result of supply issues with the manufacturers. All necessary materials are expected to arrive in May.

Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Novelle E. Francis, Kenneth L. Gittens, Alicia V. Barnes, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Javan E. James were present at Monday’s hearing. Non-committee members Donna Frett-Gregory and Oakland Benta were also in attendance.

More than 11,000 attend Seatrade

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MIAMI, FLORIDA – Senate President Kenneth L. Gittens said Monday that given the catastrophic hurricanes of 2017 and the rapid changes occurring within the cruise industry that it was critical for Virgin Islands officials to continue to work closely with cruise lines, travel agents, vendors and other tourism partners.

Senator Gittens, who is among the Virgin Islands delegation attending the 2019 Seatrade Cruise Global Conference, said the annual event remains the industry’s most important networking opportunity with the ultimate goal of luring more ships and attractions to the Territory, particularly St. Croix.

“As we continue to rebound from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, our tourism environment and specifically the cruise industry are regaining their stability, but we still have some catching up to do,” he said. “This conference is just one of the ways that we can continue to remain abreast of the changes taking place through innovative workshops and opportunities to network with the top executives in the industry. We must be proactive in driving our tourism product forward.”

There are more than three dozen workshops that focus on all aspects of the cruise industry, with many oriented toward the role that government must play in regulating and supporting tourism.

“This conference is expected to draw more than 11,000 registered attendees from around the world,” the Senate President said. “We want to ensure that the Territory remains at the table and is effectively represented. Having the opportunity to meet one on one with the executives gives us a leg up on our competition.”

The Executive Director of the 33rd Legislature and former Tourism Commissioner, Pamela C. Richards, said at the Seatrade Conference senators have a unique opportunity to meet with industry partners and learn how the Territory can be improved as a destination.

“With the information that they gather, and the relationships built with this face-to-face interaction, they can use this information to develop policies and adjust existing legislation or implement new legislation that can leverage our destination more prominently to these audiences,” Ms. Richards said.

Gittens said he is looking forward to the conference’s keynote address on the State of the Industry Panel which will be moderated by Lucy Hockings from BBC News and include Frank Del Rio of Norwegian Cruise Line, Arnold Donald of Carnival Corporation, Richard Fain from Royal Caribbean Cruises and Pierfrancesco Vago from MSC Cruises.

“We’ve seen the fruits of our attendance at Seatrade in the past and this is another opportunity to connect with the key industry players. There is a great global market out there waiting to come to our Territory and enjoy our rich heritage and natural beauty,” Senator Gittens said.

The conference’s tradeshow and expo floor will feature 800 exhibitors from 83 countries.

“I’m looking forward to having candid discussions with some of the vendors, operators and investors to bring new attractions and investment dollars to the Territory,” Senator Gittens said.

The Legislature’s delegation includes: Senate President Gittens, Senator Kurt Vialet, Senator Oakland Benta, Senator Stephen Payne, Senator Athniel “Bobby” Thomas and Senator Myron Jackson.

Committee on Rules and Judiciary Approves Five Nominees

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From the office of Senator Alicia V. Barnes

St. Thomas, V.I. – Five cabinet nominees selected by Governor Albert Bryan were confirmed before the 33rd Legislature’s Committee on Rules & Judiciary during confirmation hearings chaired by Senator Alicia V. Barnes on Thursday, March 28, and Friday, March 29 at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall in St. Thomas.
The approved nominees are Justa Encarnacion, Department of Health, Positive T.A. Nelson Department of Agriculture, Nelson Petty, Jr., Department of Public Works, Jean-Pierre L. Oriol, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and Racquel Berry-Benjamin, Department of Education.

Department of Health Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing and served as the first Health Supervisor at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix Campus. Encarnacion’s short-term goals include the development of a U.S. Virgin Islands Health Plan by conducting a health needs assessment with the input of all stakeholders to improve the overall performance of public health. Long-term goals include the opening of a 40-bed residential behavioral health facility on St. Croix, to include the return of patients receiving care off-island.
Senator Barnes asked about emergency planning relative to patient evacuees and managing databases in the wake of another natural disaster. During a line of questioning, Senate President Kenneth L. Gittens asked the nominee if the department had looked into placing EMT’s at fire stations to reduce ambulatory response times. Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion stated that meetings and conversations have started. Senator Janelle K. Sarauw asked about the status of the dental clinic in the territory and if community health clinics were operational. Commissioner Nominee Encarnacion said that while the dental clinic was taken out of the budget, agencies have expressed interest in continued collaboration with the Frederiksted and East End Health Centers.

Commissioner Nominee Nelson of the Department of Agriculture earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting and has eight years of crop farming, landscaping, and horticulture experience. His goals include revisiting and updating the Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agricultural Development and Advancement, improving infrastructure, pursuing additional funding sources, and establishing a deeper partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands.
Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr. asked about fund capitalization, assistance with facility rehabilitation, and how much funding local farm industries received. Nelson said two million dollars have been utilized thus far.
Commissioner Nominee Oriol earned a degree in Biology and began his work at DPNR as an inspector at the Division of Coastal Zone Management. His short-term goals include resolving staffing issues, addressing repairs at DPNR’s St. John office through a bid process, and providing permitees with standardized permit placards. Long-term goals include the development of comprehensive Island-Specific land use plans, and the implementation of an electronic permitting system.
Senator Dwayne M. DeGraff asked about his plans for DPNR for the next six months. Oriol listed staffing, making inspections, and having vehicles for inspectors as top priorities. Senator Barnes asked about the recent issues with CZM permits for the racetrack, how it was resolved, and if there’s a strategy in place to ensure that it won’t happen again. Oriol said the matter was resolved and permits were signed, and that legal opinions are being taken into consideration.
Commissioner Nominee Nelson Petty, Jr. earned a degree in Civil Engineering and started his career as a registered professional engineer with the Department of Public Works. Petty also founded his own engineering and surveying company. One of Petty’s goals is to “manage the community’s expectations with regards to expending federal funds to address repairs to our infrastructure,” and to attract more community and business involvement.
Committee members asked about overall safety issues, the VITRAN system, traffic and parking concerns, leadership roles on each island and specifics on projects such as the La Reine Fish Market.
Commissioner Nominee Racquel Berry-Benjamin earned a bachelor’s degree, two Masters’ Degrees, and is a Doctoral Candidate. She appeared before the committee a second time and passed, along with the other members nominees during this two-day period, to the full body with favorable recommendations.

Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation Receives Update on Various Items

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From the Office of Senator Javan E. James, Sr.

St. Croix, USVI–Members of the Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks and Recreation, chaired by Senator Javan E. James, Sr. met on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 in the Capitol Building on St. Thomas to receive an update status from several Government and non-government agencies.

The committee first heard from, Labor Commissioner nominee, Gary Molloy along with his team, who gave an overview of the Labor Youth Program, by focusing specifically on plans for the Youth and Summer Programs. The committee learned that there are approximately 598 summer jobs for the youth throughout the Territory.

Having a background in education, Commissioner Nominee Molloy hopes to collaborate with Department of Education by visiting schools and informing students of the programs that are offered. Commissioner Nominee Molloy further indicated that statically service positions like Administration, Accounting, and IT positions are the jobs that are much needed to be filled along with hospitality and carpentry areas.

The Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation Acting Commissioner Calvert White, focused on the recovery efforts due to the destruction sustained during the 2017 storms. White said that there is a need for reconstruction which may probably exceed $20,000,000.00. The Acting Commissioner also informed the committee that damages were extended to all islands and it is the department’s intent to do a thorough upgrade territory wide.

VIGL Operations Manager, Jason Williams discussed the Agreement between the VIGL and the Government of the Virgin Islands regarding their obligation to commit $27 million for the design and reconstruction of both race tracks; Williams further indicated in his testimony that he received a permit in December 2018 for the St. Thomas racetrack and a few others earlier this month.

St. Croix Horsemen Association told committee members about their challenges that they are faced with regarding their horses having no running surface that is suitable for the horses to exercise.

St. Thomas/St. John Horsemen Association updated the committee on the improvements to the running surface and it is their hope that they would have approval for the temporary racing schedule for 2019.

The Commission for Horse Racing were also invited but was unable to attend; however, another hearing will be set in April 2019 during which the committee will seek further clarity on certain issues surrounding the sport of horse racing.

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THE NOMINATIONS OF COMMISSIONER NOMINEES MOVE

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Alicia Barnes, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, and voted favorably for three nominations sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. All items approved will be forwarded to the Committee of the Whole for further consideration.

The approved nominations are Kirk Callwood, Commissioner Nominee of the V.I. Department of Finance, Gary Malloy, Commissioner Nominee of the V.I. Department of Labor (VIDOL) and Joseph Boschulte, Commissioner Nominee of the V.I. Department of Tourism. Sen. Barnes noted that it is the responsibility of the Legislature to conduct a detailed vetting process before approving each nominee.

Under a line of questioning, Sen. Barnes requested that Nominee Callwood expounds on the strategies to improve operations in the St. Croix District as it relates to vendors and tracking payments. Callwood stated that he intends on filling vacancies such as the Director of Treasury on St. Croix to oversee and streamline operations. Currently, the Core Leadership Team comprises of seven members; with one from the St. Croix District and six from the St. Thomas-St. John District. Sen. Athneil Thomas inquired about GVI cash at hand. Nominee Callwood mentioned that there are ten days cash at hand totaling $26 million with expenditures of $2 million per day. The balance is divided by the remaining allotments for the rest of FY 2019.

Overall, Nominee Callwood has over twenty-two years of experience in leadership, policymaking, and strategic planning. Some of his short-term goals are to collaborate with government agencies to conduct quarterly training with fiscal officers, to reimburse the General Fund through the verification of the biweekly payroll, and to pursue draw-downs on Federal and Disaster Funds and reimbursement to the General Fund. Some of his long-term goals are inclusive of integrating the Tyler Munis Modules to promote work efficiency Territory-wide, to re-establish a healthy relationship with the capital markets for investment and to develop a ten-year strategic plan to pay off the structural deficit of GVI.

Separately, Nominee Malloy has thirty years of experience, specifically twenty-seven years of leadership positions at the Department of Education and in the private sector. To improve operations of VIDOL, he intends on eliminating the high-risk status of federal requirements, implementing training for employees, hiring employees to fill critical vacancies and to continue assessing and implementing VIDOL’s statutory responsibilities. Sen. Janelle Sarauw inquired whether employees working beyond their job capacities receive compensation. Nominee Malloy stated that some of them are while others aren’t. Directors are responsible for assessing their employee’s tasks and submitting the documents to payroll.

Lastly, Nominee Boschulte stated that one of the significant challenges of the Department of Tourism is the shortage of hotel inventory and occupancy of available rooms because of the damages sustained post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Any available hotel rooms are currently occupied by disaster recovery workers who are there until the restoration of the Territory. Additionally, there was a shortage of new inventory for over twenty years. Another challenge is maintaining and increasing airlift capacity. Sen. Barnes inquired of restoring the availability of air travel to and from St. Croix. Nominee Boschulte stated that within the next ninety days there would be negotiations with major airlines to restore service and frequency of trips to the St. Croix District.

The strategic plan to propel the Department of Tourism forward mirrors the goals shared by previous Commissioner Beverly Nicholson Doty’s transition report. Raising revenues from expenditures of domestic and international visitors, improving the overall tourism product, and promoting the beauty of each island are some of the strategies to enhance the overall tourism product.

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THE VIRGIN ISLANDS POLICE DEPARTMENT AND THE VIRGIN ISLANDS MANAGEMENT AGENCY SHARES AN OVERVIEW WITH SENATORS

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety chaired by Sen. Steven Payne convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on the status of the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) and the Virgin Islands Management Agency (VITEMA).

VIPD shared an update. In comparison to 2018, there is an increase in the number of homicides as of January 2019 Territory-wide. To combat crime in the community, VIPD is collaborating with federal partners to investigate crimes. Additionally, traffic and patrol initiatives are effective in seizing drugs, guns, and arresting criminals. VIPD launched ‘Operation Crack Down’ with saturated patrol officers who target illegal tint on windows, seatbelt violations, uninsured vehicles, and license plates. In 2018, VIPD recovered 54 illegal firearms on St. Croix and 48 on St. Thomas; totaling 122. Thus far, in 2019 VIPD confiscated 15 illegals guns.

Sen. Payne inquired about the steps taken to use technology to improve the service of police officers. In response, VIPD Acting Police Commissioner Jason Marsh stated that VIPD began implementing the camera project. Recent police graduates wear axon Body cameras. The goal is to furnish all patrol officers with body cams. However, additional grant funding is required. VIPD in the process of implementing the Public Safety Solution: an automation system to report incidents and manage records. Recently, VIPD has twenty-five graduated officers. Recruitment efforts continue by advertising on a variety of media outlets, events and by partnering with the U.S. Army.

Separately, VITEMA shared an overview. The 2019 Disaster Preparedness Plan of VITEMA is inclusive of storing essential commodities such as generators, tarps, meals, water, blankets, and cots in storage on both districts. On St. Thomas, there are 24,960 meals, 26 generators, 509 tarps, 61,408 water, and 702 sheets. On St. John, there are 39,000 liters of water and 26,880 meals in storage. On St. Croix there are 270,000 liters of water, 1200 blankets, 15 generators, 179,600 meals-ready-to-eat, 1,000 sheets, and 480 cots.

VITEMA Acting Director Denise Lewis stated that updating and finalizing the Territorial Comprehensive Hazard Mitigation and Resiliency Plan and the Territorial Emergency Operations Plan are some of the goals for VITEMA. Additionally, VITEMA is hiring for critical vacancies and managing projects funded by the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, there was extensive damage to the Territory’s tsunami warning system; in which most of the tsunami sirens are dysfunctional. Territory-wide, there are forty-four sirens and out of that seven are operable. For the safety of the residents, VITEMA has conducted silent testing monthly on the sirens that are functional. FEMA Public Assistance Program will fund ninety percent of the tsunami warning system to replace, restore and to strengthen the structure. The Community Block Development Grant Disaster Recovery will disseminate ten percent of the funding through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.             ###

SENATORS HELD IN COMMITTEE BILL AS IT RELATES TO GERS AND APPROVED THREE LEASE AGREEMENTS

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, and voted to hold in committee Bill No. 33-0014 as it relates to the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS). However, senators voted favorably for three lease agreements. All approved items on the agenda will be forwarded to the Committee on the Whole for further consideration.

The measure seeks to amend Section 13 of Act No. 7261 as amended by striking “$7,000,000” and inserting “$10,000,000” and Section 13 of Act No. 7261 as amended by Act No. 8125 is amended by striking “outstanding employer contributions” and inserting “as a direct contribution.” Bill Sponsor Sen. Frett-Gregory stated that the bill is a step in the right direction to resolve GERS priority issues.

Currently, the outstanding employer contribution to GERS totals $71,809,752.63. Out of those monies, $66,799,769.89 is owed for member’s annual benefits; $4,007,986.19 is assumed for lost investment; and $1,001,996.55 is owed in delinquency fees. The outstanding employer contributions are for the statutory fixed rate that is contributed bi-weekly on behalf of the members of the GERS. Sen. Frett-Gregory noted that the estimated $71 million is a part of the $3 billion issues that have the same component for interest. The $71 million is a part of the structural deficit.

GERS Administrator/CEO Austin Nibbs expressed his support of the bill because the $1.8 million was previously used as a direct contribution to the unfunded liability and the nine unfunded mandates. GERS received the $21 million on February 25th from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and invested the funds in its portfolio on March 1st. To process annuity payments to 165 retirees, GERS submitted documentation requesting OMB and the Department of Finance for the reimbursement of $1.8 million.

However, OMB Acting Director Jennifer O’Neal is opposition to the bill because the $71 million is a significant debt, incurs penalties, late fees and a loss of investment. GERS should use the $10 million for debt reduction, not for unfunded liability and unfunded mandates. “OMB is aware of the need to reduce the outstanding employer contributions and not compound the outstanding sum with further charges for delinquency fees and lost investment penalties. OMB maintains reservations regarding a change to the language from Outstanding Contributions.”

Separately, lawmakers voted favorably for the three lease agreements between the Government of the Virgin Islands and the Department of Property and Procurement (DPP) on behalf of their clients. Presently, the process of approving lease agreements can take up to six months to a year. Sen. Frett-Gregory inquired about the challenges with moving lease agreements forward?” DPP Deputy Commissioner Laverne Bailey noted that corporate documents might not be in place; in some cases, there are expired business licenses and lease agreements. Bailey stated that lease agreements last from 10-20 years and the client would receive a letter or renewal.

Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, DPP on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Rueben Liburd and Sylvia Liburd. Plot No. 4-LA VI CORP Land, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, consisting of approximately 2.072 US acres. Twice Farmer of the Year in the Agricultural Fair Rueben Liburd stated that some of the produce grown on the farm are radish, carrots, and passionfruit. Sen. Blyden inquired about the type of machinery needed to fulfill farming tasks. In response, Liburd noted that the land preparation is hindered because the tractors need repairs and there is a shortage of farmers on the land.

Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, DPP on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Violet Drew and Samuel Tyson. Plot No. 4-G VI CORP Land, Prince Quarter, St. Croix Virgin Islands, Consisting of approximately 3,656 US acres. In addition to crop production, the value of the farm increases because homemade products are sold such as tomato sauce, coconut oil, and jams. Sen. Alison DeGazon inquired about the challenges of farming. In response Drew stated that parts of the fence were damaged, post-hurricanes Irma and Maria. As a result, unwanted animals such as deer and iguanas enter the farm.

Lease Agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, Department of Property and Procurement and Dave Jeffers d/b/a Paradise Trucking Service. Parcel No. 99 b-3 Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St Thomas, Virgin Islands, consisting of 4,969 sq. Ft or 0.11 US acres of land more or less. The purpose of the lease is to allow Paradise Trucking to expand current operations and to continue to provide trucking and delivery services in support of the storms. The agreement is for ten years with one five-year period for renewal.

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VIRGIN ISLANDS WASTE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY AND THE WATER AND POWER AUTHORITY SHARES STATUS WITH COMMITTEE MEMBERS

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Government Operations Consumer and Veterans Affairs, chaired by Sen. Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, to receive testimony on the status from the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (VIWMA), the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).

One of the significant challenges facing VIWMA is the lack of funding. Three major components are adversely impacting the finances annually or bi-annually. The Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix in which the solid waste bale production and placement operations require five million every year. Compliance with the Landfill Consent Decree to close the Anguilla and Bovoni Landfills estimated at $60 million bi-annually. Lastly, the revenue loss of $10.2 million over the past five years because of the lack of monies appropriated in FY 2013. The Authority is anticipating a budget shortfall of an estimated $44 million for FY 2019. External and internal damages further impacted limited funding to VIWMA sustained by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. There is a $12.2 million increase to account payables presently totaling $28.2 million.

VIWMA has an outstanding payment of $5.3 million owed to contracted haulers. Lack of payment delays trash collection services from bin sites public receptacles and house to house collections. Moreover, VIWMA submitted to the Legislature $30 million bond authorization bill to assist with capital projects associated with court-mandated schedules of the Consent Decree to bring landfills up to par with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. Similarly, Wastewater Consent Decree requirements are achievable with additional funding. VIWMA proactively apply for grants for financial assistance.

VIWMA does not have adequate members serving on the Authority’s Governing Board. As a result, there is a lack of quorum during meetings which hinders decisions on operations, approval of capital improvement projects, and addressing challenges of the consent decree. Sen. Thomas stated that it is essential to have a full board; then inquired about what makes a full complement of board members. VIWMA Interim Executive Director Adrian Taylor noted that seven members are required. To date, there are only four board members.

Similarly, the Authority is understaffed specifically with critical vacancies. In total there are thirty-three funded vacancies. Job openings are difficult to fill because of uncompetitive salary offers. Sen. Javan James recommended that VIWMA recruit former employees of HOVENSA. VIWMA Chief Financial Officer Heather Daley noted that there were many workers hired upon closure of the refinery, but eventually many of them relocated to the mainland.

Separately, the update on WAPA is as follows: The status of Restoration/Mitigation projects for the WAPA Composite Pole Mitigation Project and the T&D Undergrounding Mitigation Project is scheduled for completion as early as March 2019 to October 2020.  The benefits of both projects are that underground electric service facilities will prevent extended outages in the occurrence of a natural disaster. To date, the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) owes over $31 million for water and electricity services.  Out of the $31 million, $23.2 million GVI hospitals owe that amount.

WAPA purchased three LPG-fueled generating units from Wartsila North America Inc, for an estimated $40 million, through an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction Agreement on March 2017. WAPA used the Fuel Tax Fund to make a down payment of $7 million and issued an additional $14,765,000 with the Electric System Revenue Bond Anticipation Notes, Series 2017 to finance a portion of the purchase. Currently, the Authority is in the process of funding of the balance of $20 million by utilizing the Fuel Tax Fund and will owe $19 million upon completion of the project in March 2019. The purpose is to switch from fuel to LPG as the primary fuel source to provide efficient power generation. If the use of Fuel Tax revenues is repealed one option is to petition the Public Service Commission (PSC) to increase further rates paid by consumers which will provide financial means to complete the project.

Separately, there are two phases for the Aggreko Project. Phase I is the installation of the 20-megawatt new generation, and Phase II focuses on the capacity of the new generation. Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, WAPA had irregular dissemination of bills to customers. Currently, consumers receive an invoice every 30 days. There were damages to the Advanced Metering Infrastructure System after the storms. Presently, the towers are fully functioning, collectors are in place, and meter readability will be fully operational by June 2019.

In addition to VIWMA and WAPA the BMV shared an update. Presently, BMV is in the process curtailing long lines by offering online services to customers to make payments, renew vehicles that are six years old by mail with a cashier’s check or money order and hiring staff to work in the processing center on St. Croix. Presently, BMV is working diligently to overcome obstacles for the Real ID and ID System to reduce the 30 days for the issuance process. BMV is also in the process of remodeling the office buildings on St. Thomas and St. Croix that sustained damages after the storms. VITEMA from the FEMA Public Assistance Program approved BMV’s ten project worksheets.

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COMMITTEE ON RULES AND JUDICIARY APPROVES THREE OUT OF FOUR NOMINATIONS

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary chaired by Sen. Alicia Barnes, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, and voted favorably for three out of four nominations sent to the Legislature by Governor Albert Bryan; set forth from Section (16) of the Revised Organic Act of 1954, and Title 3, Section 65a of the Virgin Islands Code. All items approved will be forwarded to the Committee of the Whole for further consideration.

The approved nominations are Anthony Thomas, Commissioner Nominee of the Dept. of Property and Procurement, Joel Lee, Director Nominee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and Barbara Jackson McIntosh, Director Nominee for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Sen. Alicia Barnes stated that while it is the authority of the governor to fill his cabinet with who he deems as qualified individuals, it is the responsibility of the Legislature to conduct a detailed vetting process before approving each nominee.

The Department of Property and Procurement (DPP) Commissioner Nominee Anthony Thomas earned a master’s degree in Business Administration. His short-term goals for DPP are to review contracts, leases MOU’s to ensure they are current and to improve employee morale. Sen. Marvin Blyden inquired about the strategy used to boost employee morale. Nominee Thomas stated that ensuring employees know that the administration values them is a step in the right direction. Nominee Thomas’s long-term goals are inclusive of developing a sustainable procurement capacity throughout the government agencies, managing government vehicles, fixed assets, and properties. Sen. Janelle Sarauw requested the nominee to expound on a plan to limit the number of funds spent on rent for government agencies. Nominee Thomas noted that leasing a contract is cheaper than owning a building. The transition from renting to owning a building is costly.

Joel Lee, Director Nominee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a major in Accounting. He is also a Certified Public Accountant in Virginia and the United States Virgin Islands. Nominee Lee owned an Accounting firm since 2014. His primary focus as Director is to pursue tax collection by ensuring that tax returns are filed, and payments are made. To-date, there is an estimated $360 million in outstanding taxes to Government of the Virgin Islands and $125 million owed to taxpayers; out of that over $50 million was processed. Sen. Dwayne DeGraff inquired about the collection strategy. Nominee Lee stated that vacancies for qualified personnel would be heavily advertised and it is a necessity to replace outdated equipment with modern technology.

Barbara Jackson McIntosh, Director Nominee for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, earned a master’s degree in Public Administration. She holds additional degrees in Marketing Management & Sales and Organizational Management. Nominee McIntosh has certificates in the Council of State Government Henry Toll Fellow Graduate, Certified Grants Manager, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Commercial Motor Vehicles. Her primary goal is to develop and implement a Strategic Performance Plan. It will serve as a means of monitoring shortfalls, progress, activities and performance evaluations.

Although the above mentioned received a favorable recommendation, senators voted to hold in committee the nomination of Raquel Berry-Benjamin, Commissioner Nominee of the Dept. of Education. Collectively, lawmakers noted that the nominee had a “superficial” and “shallow” approach in addressing critical issues plaguing the Department of Education. Nominee Benjamin earned a master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision. She has served in leadership positions in various capacities to include a Mathematics Coach, Reading Coach, and the School Improvement Team. She gained work experience as a Director for the Division of Cultural Education, and Deputy Superintendent of the St. Thomas-St. John District.  Some of her goals are to partner with all stakeholders to focus on student academic achievement to include vocational learning, to develop a sound-systematic communication system to be a portal to exchange vital information amongst stakeholders and to design modern learning facilities while maintaining existing structures.                                                                                                                                                           ###

DEPARTMENT OF PLANNING AND NATURAL RESOURCES SHARE OVERVIEW

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Culture and Planning, chaired by Sen. Myron Jackson, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on an update of the Historic Preservation, marine environment, Town’s Blueprint, libraries, archives/museums and other related items.

Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, FEMA determined that the Historic Preservation Unit sustained an estimated $19 million worth of damages. However, DPNR’s State Historic Preservation Office was awarded $10 million to implement a recovery program for suitable archeological and historic sites that are on the National Register List. Sen. Jackson questioned whether DPNR received the $10 million. DPNR Commissioner Nominee Jean Oriol stated that there was no distribution of funds. The National Park Service will issue a check.

DPNR’s Division of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) monitors thirty-three sites in the marine environment for the Territorial Coral Reef Monitoring Program. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, which increases the coral reef mortality rate, was identified on the west coast of St. Thomas. Overall, DPNR Division of Environmental Enforcement has six officers for the St. Thomas-St. John District and the St. Croix District. However, a total of ten per district is needed. Sen. Janelle Sarauw inquired about the frequency of the enforcement officers patrolling the seas. In response, Oriol stated that there is only one officer who patrols the ocean and more officers need to be recruited.

Thus far, some of the achievements for the Town’s Blueprint includes the initiative of revising the V.I. Zoning and Subdivision codes, meeting with members of the 30th Legislature to determine proposed dates, potentially placing them into bill form and choosing a vendor for legal services. To date, a contract is still not in place. Separately, the Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums have sustained damages because of the hurricanes. Three facilities have extensive mold and contracts are in progress for remediation. FEMA is in the process of finalizing project worksheets for damages. DLAM also lacks adequate staff and funding.

As it relates to long-range planning, the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan was last revised fourteen years ago. However, components of the comprehensive plan are updated. The timeline is as follows: In 2018, CZM created a revisory group to develop water use plans for seven anchoring and mooring areas. One year later, CZM is in the process of developing a territorial transient and day-use mooring plan. By 2020, the marine life plan will target “Areas of Special Concern.”

Separately, the Board of Land Use Appeals (BLUA) shared an overview. John Woods, Chairman of BLUA noted that the purpose of the Board is to review and decide disputes between DPNR and the public. Currently, there are three pending appeals before BLUA; two of them are on St. Croix, and the other is on St. John. Challenges include vacant board member positions, the need for an in-house legal counsel and the lack of funding decelerates the scheduling of hearings.  ###