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June 2024
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COMMITTEE RECEIVES UPDATES FROM DPNR AND EDUCATION 

Published: Jun 4, 2024

ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Disaster Recovery, Planning, and Infrastructure, led by Senator Milton E. Potter met in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall. Lawmakers received testimony from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources concerning the replacement of potable drinking water lines, an update on the Comprehensive Land and Water Use plan, the relocation of the department’s offices, and any projects the department has underway as well as any issues it has had. Separately, Senators received an update from the Department of Education concerning planned, ongoing, and completed projects, the status of all disaster related federal funding, and any challenges the department has had pertaining to the territory’s disaster recovery efforts. 

Jean-Pierre Oriol, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources delivered updates on the Department. Oriol said it is difficult to update the entire Department, stating that there are 14 divisions within the Department, each with its own mandate. However, Oriol stated that the department was “doing all right with what we have.” The Permits Division has processed $150 Million in construction applications in the 2024 fiscal year, $160,000 in violations, and the GVI expending $3.34 billion in recovery projects. Oriol stated that despite challenges, there have been multiple successes in all divisions. The Division of Environmental Protection is responsible for the disbursement of drinking water. infrastructure grant funding. In Fiscal Year 2024, total funding of $3,811,645 has been allotted for drinking water infrastructure upgrades. DEP has also obligated $566,815 in funding to other potable water providers in the territory. Capital projects in process include the Hull Bay Vessel Launch Ramp removal and replacement, and the Quetel Fish Market on St. Thomas, in the amount of $229.537,50. Work is anticipated to begin by July 1, 2024. Repairs for the Charles W. Turnbull Library are expected to be completed by September 2024. Repairs to the Athalie M Petersen Library stalled and are expected to resume by June 2024. Oriol said the department struggles with funding to hire more personnel in non-federally funded divisions. 

The Department is expected to relocate to the Subbase-Crown Bay Area. A plan to a convert a Subbase building into office space ran into significant cost overrun. The Department spent $200K on mold remediation at the office. A chiller unit at the office stopped functioning. Over $12,000 was spent on portable ac units, forcing personnel to work in shifts, and forcing office closures to make the unit functional again. Oriol made mention of the recent WAPA outages and that the fact that their landlord had generator issues. A draft of the Comprehensive Land and Water Use plan is expected to be released by Mid-June. There will be three working sessions on each island to finalize the draft plan which will go out for public comment.  A final Comprehensive Land and Water Use plan is expected by August 2024. 

Additionally, Dionne Wells-Hedrington, Commissioner of the Department of Education told the body that beginning in 2017, the Department had started a journey to rebuild public education infrastructure in the territory. Approximately $3.4 Billion is coming from the FEMA Public Assistance program for permanent work and $0.1 billion from the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant (HMGP) for saferooms. A petty cash system has been established so that maintenance directors in both districts can have access to funding and has helped to expedite emergency repairs to educational facilities. Maintenance and Operations personnel have been moved to the newly established School Maintenance and Construction Bureau. Historically, maintenance received $2 Million territory wide, which has now increased to $5 Million territory wide. It received a one-time amount of $7.5 Million and reprogramming funding from the Public Finance Authority of $3,417,978.25. 

The Virgin Islands Department of Education assists all public schools in the territory across 44 locations and serves almost 10,000 students. The Department suffered catastrophic damages in September 2017 after the passage of two category 5 hurricanes, Irma, and Maria. In 2024, the Department implemented the Educational Facility Master Plan, to support teaching and learning with equity for all students by building facilities to support. A $3.4 Billion capital improvement plan has been launched with the Office of Disaster Recovery to assist in this rebuilding of school facilities. Currently, 12 projects are being designed, three of which have construction contracts signed and two are under construction. Completed projects include the Wheatley Discovery Center. Projects under construction include the Arthur A Richards PreK to 8 at the Evelyn Williams Campus, the Raphael O Wheatley Skills Center at the Gladys A. Abraham Campus, the Alexander Henderson PreK-8, the Boschulte PreK-8, the Charlotte Amalie High School, the Claude O. Markoe PreK-8, The Edith Williams Alternative Education Academy, the Julius E. Sprauve PreK-12, the Lockhart PreK-8, St. Croix Central High School, St. Croix Education Complex, St. Thomas/St. John Education Administration Center, and the St. Croix Education Administration Center. 

New projects being planned include the Alfredo Andrews PreK-8 (New Build), Dunbavin Alternative Education Center E. Benjamin Oliver PreK-8 (Modernization and Addition), Guy H. Benjamin Cultural and Center and Park (Modernization), Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (New Build) , Jane E. Tuitt PreK-3 (New Build) , John H. Woodson Discovery Center (Modernization) Juanita Gardine PreK-8 (New Build), Pearl B. Larsen PreK-8 (New Build), Ulla F. Muller PreK-8 (New Build) and Yvonne Milliner Bowsky PreK-8 with 6-8 (Modernization and Addition). Testimony emphasized that most of the territory’s schools were built more than 40 years ago and relied heavily on traditional classroom space. The newly built facilities would focus on multiple types of learning spaces. 

Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Milton E. Potter, Diane T. Capehart, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Ray Fonseca, Kenneth L. Gittens, Marise C James, Franklin D. Johnson, and Carla J. Joseph. 

The Division of Public Affairs is committed to providing the community with accurate information on legislative proceedings and other events at the Legislature of the Virgin Islands. Visit legvi.org.  

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