ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, chaired by Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building. Lawmakers voted and approved three bills regarding appropriating funds for the construction of add-ons and improvements at the Paul E. Joseph Stadium; to the Virgin Islands Port Authority to dredge the Charlotte Amalie Harbor; and to provide bottled water to residents adversely affected by the brown water crisis on St. Croix. All approved measures will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
Bill No. 35-0180 – An Act appropriating $5,124,000 from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund in fiscal year September 30, 2024, for the construction and site improvements of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium Project and requiring the Virgin Islands Department of Public Works to submit status reports of the project to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. The bill was sponsored by Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr by the request of Governor Albert Bryan.
Jenifer O’Neal, Director at the Office of Management and Budget, noted that the Internal Revenue Matching Fund lacks funding. O’Neal identified the Community Facilities Trust Fund as the funding source and suggested using that provision there. Senator Francis inquired whether this appropriation would finalize the construction of the stadium. Derek Gabriel, Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, replied that the project will be completed. Senator Frett-Gregory questioned why the additional money was needed. In response, Tawana Nicholas, Chief Engineer of the Department of Public Works, stated that building an additional press box, putting the Conditional Letter of Map Revision into effect, and buying a site generator are a few of the items. Senator Frett-Gregory urged the administration to ensure that the Paul E. Joseph Stadium contractor meets the deadline in December. It is important to start generating revenues and envision something beneficial for the Virgin Islands’ residents, particularly those in the St. Croix District.
Bill No. 35-0191 – An Act appropriating the sum of $17,000,000.00 or so much of that sum as is necessary, in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2024, from the excess of funds contained in the Debt Service Reserve Fund for the Gross Receipts Taxes Revenue Bonds to the Virgin Islands Port Authority for the dredging of the Charlotte Amalie Harbor and establishing reporting requirements for the expended funds. The sponsor of the bill is Novelle E. Francis, Jr at the request of the Governor.
The measure seeks to enable larger cruise ships to approach the harbor and berth safely at the West Indian Company Dock in Havensight due to the dredging of Charlotte Amalie Harbor in St. Thomas and the other locations mentioned in the bill. Carlton Dowe, Executive Director of the V.I. Port Authority, indicated that although he supports the bill, funds are sufficient to dredge the turning basin and berth pocket, but more money will be required to dredge the harbor’s entrance channel. The Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority’s Nathan Simmonds provided additional support for the measure by stating that the Bank of New York Mellow had informed VIPFA that the Tax Debt Service Reserve has excess money of $17,488,519.97. Subsequently, the VIPFA Board passed Resolution 22-025, designating the funds for port dredging purposes. This dredging project is solely necessary for long-overdue port maintenance. Meanwhile, Anthony Ottley, President and CEO of the West Indian Company, Ltd., stated that dredging the harbor is solely necessary for long-overdue port maintenance to prevent potentially serious safety issues and to ensure the Territory’s economic future. It has nothing to do with port expansion.
Bill No. 35-0190 – An Act to appropriate $350,000 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund to provide bottled drinking water to persons residing in the areas identified by the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority as most impacted by elevated levels of copper and lead in the potable water system. The bill was sponsored by Senate President Novelle E. Francis, Jr by the request of Governor Albert Bryan.
When identifying funding sources, OMB Director O’Neal mentioned that, although the St. Croix Capital Fund is an inappropriate use of funds, appropriating money from the General Fund fits the measure. Justa Encarnacion, Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Department of Health, indicated that providing bottled water is an essential temporary remedy until more extensive, long-term measures are put in place to deal with the underlying causes of water contamination. Drinking water tainted with lead and copper can cause several health concerns, including abnormal development, cognitive decline, and organ damage. Senator Frett-Gregory stated that it is important that swift action is taken to provide residents with clean water.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Samuel Carrion Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Javan E. James, Sr., and Franklin D. Johnson.
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