St. Croix—the Committee on Government Operations & Consumer Protection chaired by Senator Carla J. Joseph met Wednesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.
The day’s agenda consisted of several resolutions which sought to honor a number of Virgin Islanders for their contributions to the territory and also the committee received an update from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority based on the enabling law and to be apprised on the current challenges and plan of action to resolve same.
The first item on the agenda was Bill No. 34-0280 – A Resolution honoring and commending Vaughn Benjamin posthumously for his contributions to reggae music and the Virgin Islands and the Global Community; however, as per the request of the family, the Bill was removed from the day’s agenda to a future date for consideration.
The second item on the agenda was Bill No. 34-0292 – A Resolution to posthumously honor and commend Rafael Garcia, MD for his outstanding years of service to the Virgin Islands community as a Medical Doctor and a public servant. Speaking on behalf of the family was Dr. Garcia’s son, Miguel Andres Garcia, who told committee members that anyone who was a patient of his father knew he had a genuine heart for his patients. He never rushed taking care of anyone and was always available to talk to his patients and enjoyed treating them. Dr. Garcia treated patients at his private office for 35 years. The committee also heard testimony from several other supporters who also expressed their support for the measure.
During consideration of the measure, several senators reflected on the care received from Dr. Garcia and expressed their support for the proposed resolution. Chairwoman Joseph said she never had the opportunity to meet the doctor, but the overwhelming positive comments speaks to his character and the service above self to the people of the Virgin Islands. The legislative measure received a unanimous approval and was forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
The next item on the agenda was Bill No. 34-0297 – A Resolution to posthumously honor and commend Roselin Maud McFarlane for her contributions to the Virgin Islands Community and specifically as an advocate of independent living for people with disabilities.
Deborah McFarlane Truitt, spoke candidly about her mother and said her mother loved everyone she met regardless of who they were or where they were from. She was very fond of her clients at the VI Association for Independent Living. Truitt summed up her mother as being God-fearing, giving, hard-working, and loving. Truitt further urged everyone to be a voice for the forgotten in our community and to be an agent of change just like her mother. The committee also heard from several other supporters of the measure who reflected on the services of Roselin Maud McFarlane.
The resolution was approved by the committee and forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
The last item on the agenda was an update from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA). In a prepared statement, CEO Andrew Smith provided an overview in respect to renewable energy, solar, the fiscal and operational challenges, the status of the streetlight fund and the progress that has been made over the past ten months on the turnaround of the Authority.
CEO Smith told members of the committee that over the past several months, the Authority engaged with multiple developers, with both a Virgin Islands and international presence, with the objective of achieving two outcomes. One being the transitioning of St. Croix to 100% solar energy and a strategic initiative to displace expensive and volatile commodity-based fuel costs with lower, more stable solar energy cost through a long-term Power Purchase Agreement.
WAPA’s CEO further indicated that the Authority continues to be transparent about its cash shortfall and the efforts being made to place it on a sound financial footing. “Fuel prices have increased sharply since the beginning of 2021,” indicated Smith. Smith further added that fuel alone consumes approximately 70 percent of the Authority’s revenue. Despite the rise in fuel costs, Smith says the Authority continues to shield its customers from higher rates, with the most recent assistance from the Government of the Virgin Islands through the American Rescue Plan Act. Additionally, CEO Smith said that the Authority is moving forward with both electrical and water infrastructure improvements with the support of its federal partners. As it relates to the WAPA employees GERS withholdings, the Authority has made $918,890 in catch-up payments as of September 2022. The catch-up payments roughly total one-third of the previously unremitted employee withholdings due to GERS.
Senators in attendance for Wednesday’s committee meeting were Carla J. Joseph, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Alma Francis Heyliger, Javan E. James Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, Milton E. Potter, Samuel Carrión, Genevieve R. Whitaker, Kenneth L. Gittens and Angel Bolques Jr.