Category: Senator Sammuel Sanes

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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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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BILLS TO UPDATE TERRITORY’S INSURANCE CODE WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES MOVES FORWARD

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Rules and Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Novelle Francis, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to vote favorably on three bills that updates the Territory’s Insurance Code with insurance companies in the mainland and to gain National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) Accreditation.

The measures are Bill No. 32-0233-to provide for an annual audit and financial reporting to meet the accreditation standards established by NAIC and to update Insurance laws; Bill No. 32-0232- as it relates to life and health insurance agreements; and Bill No. 32-0234- to enact the Property and Casualty Actuarial Opinion Act to meet the accreditation standards established by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in its model laws to update the Insurance Laws of the Territory.

“The bills ensure the financial solvency of insurance companies. In accordance to Lieutenant Governor Potter, 75% of properties were closed, and the payout from insurance companies were over $2 million. The bills also bring the Territory up to date with accreditation with the NAIC,” said Sen. Francis

The standards of NAIC Accreditation Program requires state and territorial insurance departments to have adequate statutory and administrative authority to regulate insurer’s corporate and financial affairs. NAIC ensures active company financial solvency and regulation.

“This is just a few of the many bills to ensure the Office of the Governor Division of Banking, Insurance and Financial Regulation for the Virgin Islands have the same laws and standards as major insurance companies nationwide, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico,” said Sponsor of the Bills Sen. Kurt Vialet. “This is a unique opportunity to update laws created since 1968.”

Amendment to Bill No. 32-0234, offered by the Sen. Vialet, has several provisions to include (a) Title 22, sections 1054,1055 and 1056 as enacted in section 2 of this act take effect December 31 of the first full calendar year following the enactment of this act; and (2) Title 22, section 1057 and 1058 take effect sixty days after the enactment.

Sen. Sammuel Sanes stated that his primary concern is that once the bills enacted into law, implementation of them will not take place. “These are all excellent bills. Since there is a lack of staff across all government departments and agencies, the implementation may be an issue.”

 

All bills approved will be forwarded to the Full Body for further consideration. Senators present are Novelle Francis, Positive Nelson, Sammuel Sanes, Jean Forde, Kurt Vialet and Myron Jackson, Janette Millin Young. Access photos: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/                                                                     ###

BILL TO BAN PLASTIC STRAWS HELD IN COMMITTEE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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NOISE POLLUTION ACT FORWARDED TO COMMITTEE ON RULES AND JUDICIARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WAPA GIVES UPDATE ON BASE RATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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