Category: Senator Marvin A. Blyden

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.

POLICYMAKERS UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF HOUSING IN THE TERRITORY

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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Telecommunications chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony on the status of Housing in the Territory.

The Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) public housing operations are as follows: For FY 2018 VIHA received a total of $46,525,937 of Federal Funds. The breakdown is as follows: Public Housing Subsidy is $20,952,312, Public Housing Capital Fund is $9,553,554, Housing Choice Voucher Administration Fee is $1,865,490 and the Housing Voucher Choice Fund is $14,154,581. Sen. Alicia Barnes inquired about the impact to service Section 8 clients despite rent inflation. VIHA Director of the Housing Choice Voucher Program Akala Anthony stated that the allocation of over $14 million equivalents to 17,000 vouchers for 1,750 families with the inflation of rent. The inflation prices adversely affect the ability to house more families of which there are 2400 applicants on a waiting list.

In response to Sen. Blyden’s inquiries on the number of active tenant councils per community and the hinderances of resident participation in leadership council positions; VIHA Executive Director Robert Graham noted that out of 26 housing communities there are three active Resident Councils with elected officers. The community centers are utilized for afterschool programs and daycare for the Dept. of Human Services. The lack of tenant council leaders is due to the responsibility of an advocate to take a stance against guns, gangs, and drugs in the neighborhood. Many are hesitant and fear retaliation because of those challenges.

Post Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Lucinda Millin Homes elevator was damaged. However, some of the woes facing the Lucinda Millin Homes are the units were small, there was a lack of amenities and healthcare facilities, and the structure of the edifice was built with inexpensive materials. Sen. Athneil Thomas inquired about the relocation plans for the Lucinda Millin Homes and the Tutu Hi-Rise. Graham stated that VIHA’s Portfolio Repositioning Strategy is to replace the edifice with new senior housing at Oswald Harris Court. As it relates to the Tutu Hi-Rise, demolition plans are on hold due to VIHA awaiting final approval from FEMA for the Project Worksheet 390. The VIHA’s Portfolio Repositioning Strategy is to replace the Tutu Hi-Rise and relocate family and senior units to three locations.

Separately, the Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands Inc. (CCVI) and the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) shared an update.

Presently, CCVI St. Thomas location, is the only emergency shelter throughout the Territory. The shelter on St. Croix is inoperable because of damages sustained by Hurricane Maria in 2017. CCVI Executive Director Andrea Shillingford noted that one of the significant challenges is inadequate mental health and substance abuse treatment services which is a contributing factor to homelessness. Shortly, plans are inclusive of replacing and upgrading the Bethlehem House on St. Thomas and to open eleven apartment units on St. Croix to house single men.

The VIHFA was awarded $242,684,000 with an additional $779,217,000 totaling $1,021,901,000 from the U.S. Virgin Islands Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan. Since then, the department hired twenty employees to implement plans to increase housing and community development with the primary goal of creating opportunities for affordable homeownership throughout the Territory. Some of the targeted locations for first-time home-owners in the St. Croix District are Bonne Esperance, Cotton Valley, Estate Mount Pleasant, and Estate Solitude. In the St. Thomas-St. John District there will be homeownership opportunities at Whispering Hills, Estate Nazareth, Estate Fortuna, Ross Taarneberg, Queen Louise Apartments, and Estate Bethany.                                                                                  ###

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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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.

LEGISLATIVE HOME NOW ON THE HORIZON FOR THE BIG ISLAND

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ST. CROIX– Senate President Myron D. Jackson and Vice-President Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly announced early today that a new site for the Legislature on St. Croix has been procured.

“We are excited to have a place to call home, our central and senatorial staff have worked in two separate locations far longer than we anticipated,” said Vice-President O’Reilly.

Shortly after Hurricane Maria’s passage, an active search began for a temporary legislative home to meet the needs of the general public.

The Legislature of the Virgin Islands currently operates out of two offices in Christiansted; 1108 King Street and #36-C Strand Street. “Immediately following the hurricanes, we began to explore our options for relocation. We attempted to reach out to the Office of the Governor for assistance. Upon being turned down, our efforts led us to the two properties we have been operating out of since January.”

“When I took office at the beginning of this term, I made a statement regarding the welfare of the employees of this Institution. It did not sit well with the local media and members of our community. I made a commitment to improving the standard of health, and quality of life for our employees on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.”

“I am reminded of the many locations of the Legislature we leased on Contentment Road and most recently at the Lagoon Street Complex. “It pained us greatly to have to move out of Frederiksted after Hurricane Maria,” he added.

Senate President Jackson noted the ongoing discussions pertaining to the impact of mold, and severe flooding conditions, and sewage issues in Frederiksted. The Members of the 32nd Legislature agreed that it was time to deal with it rather than deferring it to the next Body.

“We are looking forward to new beginnings at our new location, where people can come to the institution and be proud of not just the Senate, but what the building signifies for the community of St. Croix,” O’Reilly concluded.

This has been a long, frustrating road, said Jackson. “We are pleased to announce today that we have secured a safe, habitable working environment for our Staff and look forward to our continued productivity as the First Branch of Government,” concluded Senate President Jackson.

 

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LIMETREE BAY TERMINALS, LLC ARGUES FOR MAJOR CZM PERMIT

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ST. CROIX--The Committee of the Whole, chaired by Senate President Myron D. Jackson, met on Wednesday in the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center of the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center where testimony was given on a Major Coastal Zone Management Permit.

Senators heard from several Limetree Bay Terminals L.L.C. management Executives regarding Major CZM Permit CZX-29-17 for a Single Point Mooring (SPM) to be constructed on the south of St. Croix. The project’s activities will be specifically located seaward of Limetree Bay Terminals, LLC Terminal Plot No. 9 Reclaimed Land, Christiansted.

In his testimony, Jason Gleason, Maine Terminal Pilot and Captain for Limetree Bay Terminals, said as Lead Superintendent in the Marine Department and Project Lead on the SPM Project, Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) are some of the largest vessels in the world often over 1100ft long and 200ft, wide and may have a draft of over 700ft.

He added that historically to call on St. Croix, a VLCC would need to be roughly half loaded, and so, this project will enable their customers to transport crude to and from the facility in full loaded VLCC, offering a much more efficient operation.

According to Gleason, the Limetree Bay SPM will transfer crude oil to and from the facility and with the upgraded crude pumps completed last year, they can load out at approximately 45,000 barrels per hour. He pointed out that, the SPM project has been designed to Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF); United States Coast Guard (USCG) and American Bureau #56 King Street, Hamilton House, Christiansted, St. Croix 00820 340-773-2424, Fax: 340-712-2397, E-mail: publicaffairs@legvi.org of Shipping (ABS) standard. Furthermore, the entire system is designed to withstand the extreme conditions often found in in the Caribbean region.

Senators, who expressed their concerns as they relate to the project’s impact on the ecosystem, was given assurance by Gleason that after an extensive environmental assessment and re-routing of the project to minimize environmental impact, it was determined that a few corals were still in the pathway of the project.

According to him, these corals will be transplanted well clear of the project by their environmental contractor, Bio Impact. They will also be constructing a man-made reef to provide additional habitat where some of the coral will be transplanted on both the south and north shores of St. Croix in areas already approved by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR).

Gleason added that during construction, Bio Impact will be monitoring for turbidity, the effect on wildlife, and any other issues. Moreover, Bioimpact will stop the work immediately if any issues arise, and that they will work with DPNR and the federal government to remedy prior to resumption of construction.

In respect to local employment, Gleason told Senators that many of the materials to construct have been procured and delivered to St. Croix, and with the ratification by the legislature, they will commence construction as soon as possible. The construction phase, he added, will result in employment for laborers, concrete workers, welders, inspectors and painters on St. Croix.

Other testifiers for Limetree Bay Terminals were: Joyce Wakefield, Environmental Specialist; Amy Dempsey, President of Bio Impact; and Jeff Gorman, Engineer, Lloyds Engineers. Senators at Wednesday’s Committee of Whole Hearing were: Senate President, Myron D. Jackson, Vice-President, Rivera-O’Reilly, Jean A. Forde, Neville A. James, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Positive T.A. Nelson, Tregenza A. Roach, Sammuel Sanes, Janelle K. Sarauw, Brian A. Smith, and Kurt A. Vialet.

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LAWMAKERS APPROVE NOMINEES, CZM AND ZONING REQUESTS DURING LEGISLATIVE SESSION

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ST. THOMAS– On Wednesday, Members of the 32nd Legislature, convened in Legislative Session at the Capitol Building. Led by Senate President Myron Jackson, the Body considered zoning requests, CZM permits and several measures.

The meeting began with the consideration of the following Nominees:

  • Nelson Petty, Jr.– Commissioner, Dept. of Public Works
  • Elizabeth Armstrong (Reappointment)– Member, WAPA Authority Board (STX)
  • Stacy Bourne– Member, VI Casino Control Commission (STT/STJ)
  • Hubert Turnbull– Member, WAPA Authority Board (STT/STJ)
  • Julio Rhymer, Sr.– Director, Office of Management & Budget (OMB)
  • John A. Quelch– Member, University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees (STX)
  • Dina Perry-Malone– Member, VI Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (STT/STJ)

All Nominees were approved, however, Senators shared their concerns regarding their nominations and current issues in their respective agencies. “Our margin for error is minute,” Sen. DeGraff expressed. After thanking the Body, Nelson Petty, Jr., updated the Body on the status of Capital projects in the territory. “My focus has been on our capital projects and I am pleased to report three projects on St. Croix currently in the procurement phase and on St. Thomas, preconstruction began yesterday with the Veterans Drive project”.

The second block of the meeting considered the following Coastal Zone Management Permits and Zoning requests:

  • Bill No. 32-0153 – An Act ratifying the Governor’s approval of Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZJ-20-11W issued to David McDaniel and Cheryl McDaniel. The permit was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0154 – An Act ratifying Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-2-16 (L&W) issued to DUN RUN GOLF, LLC, for the continued use and occupancy of the existing reverse osmosis plant with 12” diameter, 140 feet intake line and 12-inch, 650 feet long outfall line located at Plot No. C-2-Q Estate Lovenlund, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The permit was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0142 – An Act to rezone Parcel No. 13AA Estate Contant, No. 2 Cruz Bay Quarter St. John from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to R-4 (Residential-Medium Density). The zoning request was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0181 – An Act granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 171 Estate Contant-Enighed, Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands, to allow for the operation of a car rental business. The zoning request was passed and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0182 – An Act to rezone Parcel No. 4-A Estate Cruz Bay Town, Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, from B-3 (Business-Scattered) to B2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood). The zoning request was approved as adapted and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0187 – An Act rezoning Parcel No. 6D Estate Thomas, New Quarter, St. Thomas from R-3 (Residential-Medium Density) to B-2 (Business-Secondary Neighborhood) and from the B-2 zoning designation granting a use variance. The zoning request passed in its original format and forwarded to the Governor.

“We make a way for the big businesses, but not for the small players. We need to show them that we are sensitive to the small businesses, families,  and individuals trying to establish wealth,” stated Non-Majority Leader, Sen. Positive T.A. Nelson. Similar comments were expressed by the members of the Body after two zoning requests were removed from the agenda during the 2nd block.

 

The following bills were considered after press time:

 

  • Bill No. 32-0168–An Act amending Title 22 VI Code, Chapter 39, designating current sections 951 through 983 subchapterI, Section 984 as Subchapter II, and by adding a subchapter III entitled, “The Standard Forfeiture Law of 2018 for Life Insurance,” which meets the accreditation in its model laws and updates the insurance laws of the Virgin Islands of the United States placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions thereby affording greater and more effective protection to the policyholders in the Virgin Islands. Sponsored by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0065–An Act to appropriate the sum of $500,000 to the Economic Development Authority for “energy efficient” retrofitting of the Industrial Park on the island of St. Croix. Sponsored by Sen. Neville James, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0178–A Resolution to honor to commend the ALL HANDS and HEART-SMART RESPONSE. Proposed by Sen. Jean Forde, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0188–An Act appropriating $3,500,000 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for maintenance dredging of the Schooner Bay Channel. The measure, sponsored by Senators Kurt Vialetand Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0147–An Act amending Title 27 VI Code, Chapter 1, Subchapter I relating to the special restricted licensing of physicians and subchapter II (a) relating to the practice of telemedicine; amending Title 19, Chapter 15, relating to the licensing, inspection and regulation of healthcare facilities and health services; and amending Title 33, Chapter 3, relating to exemptions from the payment of gross receipts on all Medicaid and Medicare payments. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0175–An Act amending Title 29 VI Code, Chapter 12 to strengthen the Economic Development Commission. Sponsored by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the measure was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0189–An Act amending Title 18 VI Code to reprogram the appropriation of Act No. 7904 to conduct the 2018 primaries and makes the appropriation available until expended. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jean Forde, was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0059–An Act to amend Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9 relating to regulation of billboards. This bill enlarges the definition of “advertising device and bans the use of changeable 6 electronic variable message signs, digital billboards or smartboards that have animation, movement, or the appearance or optical illusion of movement. Sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson, the measure was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0024–An Act amending title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, section 1 to provide for the position of Curator and amending title 31 Virgin Islands Code to add a chapter 42 establishing the Preservation of Historic Government Collections Act and for other purposes. Sponsored by Senate President Myron Jackson, the measure was approved as amended by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

The Bills can be accessed in their entirety on our website via Bill Tracker module: http://legvi.org:82/

 

 

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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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SENATORS HOST TOWNHALL MEETING TO DISCUSS THE PROPER DISPOSAL OF DEBRIS AND WASTE POST-HURRICANE IRMA AND HURRICANE MARIA

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St. John – Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by Sen. President Myron Jackson, hosted a Town Hall Meeting at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room to meet with representatives from the Virgin Islands Waste Management and FEMA to discuss post-hurricane burning of debris and trash and preserving valuable timber that can be re-used to promote culture in the Territory.

“This discussion is continued around the disposal of the waste. It is important that salvage our local resources that came as a result of two Category 5 hurricanes. Proper disposal of this debris and waste can lead to economic growth in terms of using the materials to provide jobs for local craftsman, carpenters, and farmers,” said Sen. Jackson. “There is an environmental concern in the preservation and conservation of our antiques. Burn and mulch of heritage woods, these resources have a rightful place in our culture and society.”

Similarly, a St. John Resident stated that the wood should be preserved. “The Canep Tree is one of the strongest wood in the Territory. The wood can be made into a board that is thirty-six inches wide. Instead of disposing of it, cut it down by six inches and make it into plywood. These woods can be used as timber and lumber. That’s just one way to recycle it.”

Rich Kremlin, Chairman of V.I Waste Management stated that this Town Hall Meeting is conducted in hopes of determining a cost-effective solution to waste disposal. All compost can be re-used locally. Soil from the run-offs can be used to fertilize and replenish soil used for farming. Debris can be used to revitalize the Wood Craft Industry.

A representative from the Environmental Protection Agency stated that EPA will provide air monitoring for particulates and matter throughout trash removal process. “PM 2.5 and PM 10 are two particulates that are examined closely during incineration of smoke. The smaller the particulates the more likely it can pass through the lungs and cause respiratory problems. Therefore, we will monitor disposal very closely.”

Sen. Marvin Blyden asked, “How were the location of waste disposal sites on St. John determined?” Eric Cheng, Project Manager of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, “It was a challenge to make this decision because of the limited options. However, the best space for waste disposals on St. John is Sussanaberg and Coral Bay.”

However, residents of St. John opposed using Coral Bay as a waste disposal site.

“I reside in Coral Bay and I am very concerned about burning waste in that area. Residents are already exposed to compose from Tortola and now waste disposal is happening at Coral Bay. I am opposed to this agreement because Coral Bay is the hub of our community,” said a concerned resident.

Senators present are Myron Jackson, Brian Smith, Janette Millin Young, Tregenza Roach, Marvin Blyden, and Dwayne DeGraff.

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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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