ST. JOHN- Members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the St. John Legislative Annex Cleone Henrietta Creque Conference Room on Monday, and met with officials from the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) to receive testimony on disaster recovery programs and initiatives under the jurisdiction and financial stewardship post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria that occurred in 2017.
Currently, the major disaster recovery projects under the jurisdiction of VITEMA are inclusive of the Hermon Hill Facility Wind Retrofit and Safe Room, repairing the St. Thomas VITEMA Emergency Operations Center, the Hazard Mitigation and Resilience Plan, and Tsunami Siren Repair; according to VITEMA Director Daryl Jaschen. A total of $22.5 million was awarded to the Hermon Hill Facility Wind Retrofit and Safe Room from the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. To date, VITEMA achieved the completion of a revised budget, the initial Architectural and Engineering Phase, and the submittal of the request to expand the existing structure.
Moreover, Jaschen noted that although VITEMA has yet to receive a financial award from FEMA to repair the St. Thomas VITEMA Emergency Operations Center, bids were submitted for repairs. One of the major challenges is damaged roof drain gutters. Unfortunately, when it rains, water leaks into the already repaired air conditioning units, causing further damage. Subsequently, Jaschen noted that FEMA obligated $4.9 million to VITEMA to develop an updated Hazard Mitigation and Resilience Plan in partnership with the University of the Virgin Islands. The intent is to replace the 2019 version with a renewed theme of resiliency and long-term sustainability that supports mitigation strategies.
Regarding the Tsunami Warning System Alternative Project, VITEMA was obligated $1.6 million and the work is halfway completed. The purpose of the project is to repair 44 tsunami warning stations Territory-wide. Out of that, Jaschen indicated that on the St. Thomas-St. John District there are 27 sites slated for repairs and 17 in the St. Croix District. Additionally, sirens slated to be secured on steel poles installed 50ft above ground and 8ft underground at 42 stations. The Office of Disaster Recovery Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien added that VITEMA in collaboration with the vendor, American Signal, will start installations in March 2021 and conclude in July 2021. Sen. Sarauw inquired about alternative alert methods to inform residents of a tsunami. In response, Jaschen mentioned that residents will be notified by AlertVI and the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System will disseminate information of a tsunami threat to radio stations and electronic devices via text or email. Sen. Sarauw stated that this critical project should have already been completed. “Four years passed since the storms, and the Tsunami Warning System isn’t repaired. The Government of the Virgin Islands is responsible for the safety of the people.”
Separately, DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol shared an update. DPNR oversees the Hurricane Fisheries Disaster Relief Program (HFDRP) and the Virgin Islands Historic Recovery Program (VIHRP). Oriol mentioned that for HFDRP there are 356 applicants of which 274 applications were processed totaling $3,029,285. Additionally, 27 applications are in the queue totaling $404,437 to-date. The program began in June 2020. Similarly, VIHRP launched in November 2020 and currently has 24 applicants for an approximate total of $3.7 million for direct assistance funding. Separately, Oriol indicated that DPNR submitted to FEMA 43 Project Worksheets for the Infrastructure Repair Program Territory-wide. Some of the major projects with an estimated $125,000 in repairs are the Charles Wesley Turnbull Library, the Sprauve Library, and the St. Croix Public Libraries. Lastly, Octalien stated that the FEMA Hazard Mitigation, the FEMA Flood Mitigation, and NOAA Marine Debris Program awarded DPNR funding for disaster recovery projects. ###