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LEGISLATURE TO RESUME IN-PERSON TESTIMONY

St. Thomas—Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory announced Wednesday that the Virgin Islands Legislature is continuing to transition back to in-person testimony, as the first in-person testifiers were able to be present to Members of the Body, the Governor’s FY 2022 Budget Proposal last week during the budget overview process.  “As we continue to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, our transition back to in-person testimony will continue in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, Capitol Building, St. Thomas,” said Senate President Frett-Gregory.

“We have been working vigorously as a Body since this pandemic has impacted life as we know it. The Legislature continued to do the work of the people and has conducted many meetings utilizing various virtual platforms. This effort has proven to work, but it has had its challenges; however, the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall is now outfitted with plexiglass dividers for Senators and testifiers to ensure CDC compliance,” said the Senate President.

The Senate President further indicated that ongoing preparations are being made in the St. Croix district, and will be ready for in-person testimony by June 10, 2021.

As the doors are opened, efforts will continue in monitoring the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and modify the requirements as needed. However, specific guidelines will be required of all in-person testifiers:

  • Testifiers must remain in the outside waiting area or their vehicles until their block for testimony is required.
  • Only four testifiers will be admitted into the well; other testifiers must remain in the gallery during their block of testimony.
  • Testifiers will not be permitted to remain in the Chambers after their block of testimony.
  • Testifiers are asked to arrive 30 minutes before their scheduled appearance time to complete an electronic check-in process.
  • Check-in using a guest QR code from their smartphone. This includes entering identifying information and answering COVID-19 exposure questions.
  • Upon entry, in-person testifiers will be required to provide their vaccination record or COVID-19 negative test.
  • Vaccination records will only be accepted two or more weeks following the second vaccine.
  • COVID-19 negative test results must be taken no more than 72 hours before the testimony.
  • Wearing of masks unless seated in the well.
  • Sanitization of hands and complete temperature screening.
  • Complete a full security check, including all bags.

 

Legislative custodians will sanitize the testifier bench and outside waiting area after each measure/block. These steps are being taken to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance. However, the Legislative buildings remain closed to the public in general, and we are asking for the continued cooperation as we move towards the new normal. “We must be mindful that vaccinations, as advised by the CDC, are strongly encouraged for employees, vendors, and the public to stop the spread of COVID-19,” concluded Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

 

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34th Legislature in Receipt of Executive Budget, Hears Budget Overview

St. Thomas, USVI – Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory announced that the 34th Legislature heard the Executive Branch’s Budget Overview during a Committee on Finance hearing held today in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall. The Governor’s financial team was present to justify the proposed biennial budget submitted on May 28, 2021. “The idea of a biennial budget is one that should have been discussed colloboratively due to its impact on Legislative authority,” stated Senate President Frett-Gregory, “Those conversations would have highlighted concerns regarding Section 9 of the Revised Organic Act and the implementation of a biennial budget.”

While we are all for progress and moving the Virgin Islands forward, we have to be responsible leaders. These are unprecedented times, and as made clear by the Governor’s financial team in today’s testimony the uptick in revenue collections are a direct result of these times. “Disaster recovery and coronavirus relief funding are the basis for the rise in the revenue collections, stated Senate President Frett-Gregory, “We have to ensure that proposed expenditures are sustainable beyond the one year period.” Executive budgets, like all budgets, are based on projections and evaluating expenses and revenue collections.

A biennial budget is untimely at this juncture, when there are so many changing variables. We have to examine what will occur as the Caribbean reopens to visitors, how the cruise industry will fare in the upcoming months, and the uncertainty surrounding Limetree Bay’s ability to refine must also be considered. “With so many unknowns, it calls into question revenue projections. Even if the law permitted, it is not timely or responsible for the Legislature to consider a two year budget.” said Frett-Gregory.

“As the Legislature continues to work on solutions for GERS, it was the expectation that the Governor’s proposed budget would be more inclusive of support for the system. The members of the 34th Legislature will continue to vet the proposed FY 2022 Budget and enact a balanced budget that comprehensively addresses government services, income tax refunds, government employees’ salary increases and will work towards ensuring an enacted budget by October .” ended Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

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34th LEGISLATURE CELEBRATES AFRICAN LIBERATION DAY

ST. THOMAS—Under the theme of “Forward Ever to World-Wide Pan-African Unity,” Members of the 34th Legislature celebrated African Liberation Day on the Capitol Building grounds. Enacted through Act No. 5473, Virgin Islands African Heritage Week and African Liberation Day are commemorated annually during the third week of May and on May 25th, respectively.

Virgin Islands African Heritage Week annually commemorates, observes, memorializes, and celebrates that African Liberation Day is rooted in the First Conference of Independent African States convened by eight African nations in 1958 during African Freedom Day (April 15th) and led by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of the independent Republic of Ghana – an African nation with which many Virgin Islands Caribbean people have ancestral family lineage, the proclamation states.

Cultural Tradition Artist Jason Meade gave the Call to Order, signaled by the Conch Shell Horn. Empress of Ceremonies SNTDR. Chenzira Davis Kahina led the Program, followed by raising the Flag, singing of the National African Anthem by Nkosi Sikelel ‘Iafrika, and recitation of VI Code Title 1, Chapter 11, Section 192, and Proclamation by UVI Student, Majestik Freedom Estrada-Petersen.

Senator Milton E. Potter spoke on behalf of Senate President Frett-Gregory and referenced “Africa Unite” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, reiterating the song’s appeal for unity among Africans on the continent as well as the Africans throughout the diaspora. “This theme is about holding on to our identity as African people,” stated by Senator Carla J. Joseph.

After Libation offered by Felicia Blake of the Yoruba Community, the event included an Ancestral Tribute by Queens of the Earth, a Heritage presentation from Clarence Lumumba Leonard of the Pan African Support Group, and the Keynote Presentation by Nswnebkara Asar R. Herishetapaheru, Per Ankh M Smai Tawi.

“Today we reflect on the fact that we have not obtained our freedom and thus, this isn’t easy because our freedom has not been fully realized. But we use this day to reaffirm our commitment to pan Africanism celebrating the victories against capitalism via colonialism, racism and zionism” said Senator Genevieve Whitaker.

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34th Legislature meets with Limetree Bay Ventures, LLC

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St. Thomas, USVI – Members of the 34th Legislature met with the Limetree Bay’s Executive Team to discuss the recent incidents that have occurred and the course of action that Limetree Bay will be pursuing to correct and mitigate against future incidents. Jeffrey Rinker, Chief Executive Officer of Limetree Bay provided information to the Senators on incidents that occurred in February 2021, that impacted the Estate Clifton Hill community; the incident in April 2021, that resulted in a noxious odor that permeated the western part of St. Croix; and the May 2021 flare incident that occurred almost two weeks ago. Limetree advised the Senators that an Incident Command Center has been established and can be reached at (340) 692-3199. There are surveyors out in the community assessing impact to homes in communities as far west as Estate Hannah’s Rest. Further a protocol has been established to have roofs, cisterns and cars cleaned that were impacted.
It was clear from the meeting that the dissemination of timely and accurate information to the public warrant attention. There is not a clear protocol established on who within the Government of the Virgin Islands is the point of contact for notification when there is an incident. Further based on the meeting, while information on what has transpired is shared with the various departments, the flow of information between Limetree and the Government of the Virgin Islands is not as smooth as it should be. All Senators present urged Limetree’s Executive Team to meet with members of the press and not just issue press releases, so that the public can hear directly what is occurring in the facility.
The Legislature of the Virgin Islands since approval of the refining agreement with Limetree, has appropriated approximately $2 million dollars during the last three (3) fiscal years to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to fund the equipment and personnel needed to have the Government of the Virgin Islands monitor the air quality on St. Croix. This was done because during the vetting process, it was stated on the legislative record that under the EPA permit Limetree obtained, the monitors would not be required. The members of the 32nd Legislature thought it prudent to have the air quality monitored and provided the funding to ensure that DPNR could do so.
After discussion, Limetree Bay agreed that in the spirit of being responsible corporate citizens and partner to the Government of the Virgin Islands, that they would reinstall the monitors although it is their belief that it is not required pursuant to their permit. Limetree advised the members that once a timeline on the purchase and installation has been established that the Legislature will be notified simultaneously as Limetree notifies the EPA on the matter.
The members of the Legislature advised Limetree that the number one priority to the institution is the well-being of Virgin Islanders. Further the members indicated that during the shutdown, Limetree and the Government of the Virgin Islands work on establishing a notification and communication protocol that affords the residents of St. Croix to receive information on a timely basis on the potential hazards to their well-being. It is the consensus of the members of the Legislature to allow the federal and local EPA the opportunity to investigate the issues surrounding the emissions and odor that St. Croix residents have been experiencing. Not only is it prudent, but it allows the Legislature to have data, test results, and a corrective action plan to discuss.

        The final report from the EPA will allow Senators to bring before them all involved in the emissions and odors experienced. Additionally, should the government need to obtain additional resources to address this matter, the legislature is prepared to appropriate the necessary funding.
Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory advised Limetree’s Executive Team that the Legislature will be convening a committee of the whole hearing prior to the restart of refining operations so that the public can be made aware of the guardrails that have been established by the Environmental Protection Agency and the various departments of the government of the Virgin Islands. “True collaboration must occur in order for the public to have a sense of security. It is important that our residents are aware of the parameters established to keep them safe and the protocols established should there be a future incident at the facility,” stated Frett-Gregory.
Senators met on Friday, May 14, 2021 with Jean-Pierre Oriol – Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Justa Encarnacion – Commissioner of the Department of Health, and Daryl Jaschen – Director of the Virgin Islands Territorial Management Agency to discuss the incidents at the Limetree Bay facility on St. Croix. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the protocols for timely notification, challenges the government entities were experiencing with working with Limetree and providing timely information to the community. The Government’s team acknowledged that there were communication challenges, and they are working towards ensuring that communication flows better so that those impacted are notified immediately. Commissioner Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources indicated that the government is working with a vendor to get air monitors and had not yet used the funding appropriated to the agency to purchase the equipment to monitor the air quality. Commissioner Oriol advised the Senators that the federal EPA had placed temporary monitors to check the air quality at strategic locations on St. Croix. Senators urged the government’s team to ensure that a protocol is properly established and communicated to the public. Senators stated that it is important that the Government of the Virgin Islands ensure that Limetree complies with all environmental regulations and that the only way to do so is to make sure the government is also monitoring the activities.
Members of the Legislature present were Senators Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Genevieve Whitaker, Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne Degraff, Kenneth L. Gittens, Franklin D. Johnson, Steven Payne, Milton Potter, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Kurt A. Vialet. Limetree’s Executive Team included Jeffrey Rinker, Jeff Charles, Neil Morgan, Franklin Quow and Tarah Graham-Hodge. Also present were members of the media.

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LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE ECONOMY

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture chaired by Sen. Kenneth L. Gittens, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, and received testimony regarding the status of local businesses and the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Virgin Islands tourism industry. Invited testifiers were officials from the United States Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association and the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce. However, the latter was excused from the meeting due to a medical emergency.

“We are here to discuss the state of the local economy with a specific focus on the private sector in the St. Thomas-St. John District. As a result of the pandemic, the Territory was hit hard due to the total loss of the Cruise Industry and businesses struggled to remain open with restrictions,” Sen. Gittens said. “We must keep in mind that we are a community who is resilient as we continue to rebuild post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”

The Tourism Industry was adversely impacted when the Territory shut down in compliance with the Executive Order issued by Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. during the State of Emergency issued in March 2020; noted Lisa Hamilton, President of the USVI Hotel and Tourism Association who shared the update.

Hamilton testified that the economy declined as restaurants were mandated to cease indoor dining, while only providing patrons with drive-through or takeout service. Moreover, businesses were required to adhere to PPE and sanitation guidelines and provide disposable dishware. Major reconstruction projects such as the Marriot Frenchman Reef also shut down, delaying its reopening. Nonetheless, in response to Sen. Milton Potter’s inquiry regarding the overall management of the pandemic by the Government of the Virgin Islands, Hamilton stated that the Bryan/Roach Administration did a great job despite unforeseen and unexpected challenges caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Lawmakers drilled down on strategies to improve the Virgin Islands Tourism Industry to attract visitors to boost the economy. Hamilton’s recommendations stressed the significance of revitalizing all downtown areas in the St. Thomas-St. John District and the St. Croix District, launching beautification projects to clean up roadsides and beaches, encouraging property owners to maintain the aesthetics of their properties, upgrading the infrastructure, and job opportunities. Additionally, Hamilton noted that providing electronic payments as an option for transportation services, crime reduction, and educating the youths also contributes to improving tourism in the Territory. Sen. Javon James, Sr. suggested that promoting inexpensive interisland traveling through partnerships with the airlines and ferry services also adds to the overall value of the Territory.

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VIPA DIRECTOR GAVE UPDATE

VIPA DIRECTOR GAVE UPDATE
St. Croix–The Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture, chaired by Senator Kenneth L. Gittens met Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix. The Committee received updates from the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) on the overall status of the agency, capital improvement, and revenue-generating projects in place or on the horizon.
In his testimony, Carlton Dowe, Executive Director of VIPA, said the Authority supports social and economic activities, trade, and their largest gross domestic product—tourism. He added that these activities, including operation, construction, and maintenance, provide hundreds of employment opportunities for residents.
The VIPA said Dowe, does not receive an annual allotment from the VI government. Instead, it is an autonomous entity. He pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant revenue shortfalls due to reduced travel and decreased marine traffic to the territory.
VIPA’s 2021 Fiscal Year budget is $150.4 million. This budget sustained a decrease of approximately $19.1 million and includes $55 million for operating expenses, $4.5 million for debt services, and $90.9 million for projected capital expenditures.
According to Dowe, VIPA revenues decreased by 45 percent when the Territory closed travel to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. He added that the Territory has since seen a significant surge in air arrivals. However, the effect of the pandemic is still evident.
Regarding the District of St. Croix, he said there had been no new service. However, there has been a significant increase in air passenger arrivals and tourist traffic, evident as hotels and Airbnb owners reported.
Dowe said marine traffic substantially decreased their revenue collections, as cruise ships have not visited the U.S. Virgin Islands since March 2020 due to restrictions on cruise travel imposed by the CDC.
VIPA employs 365 residents in the Territory added Dowe and has not implemented any furloughs or layoffs since the pandemic. They have only filled vacancies necessary due to their mandates. He further noted that some aviation operations positions were filled using monies from the CARES Act.
Additional monies received, said Dowe, came from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the amount of $38 million as part of the CARES Act federal stimulus bill to maintain the Territory’s airports.
Dowe also pointed out that the Airport Improvement Grant amounted to $8,859,506 awarded by FAA in September 2020. It provides $4,711,11I to rehabilitate 5,305 square yards of failing pavement at the Cyril E. King Airport (CEKA) and for phase two of this project to reconstruct 11,000 square yards of faulty apron pavement.
At the Henry E. Roslson Airport (HERA), added Dowe, it provides $4,148,395 for a Runway 10-28 Shoulder and Electrical Vault Construction Project scheduled to start in June 2121. According to him, VIPA will reconstruct and repair the lighting system and Taxiway A, build a new airfield electrical vault, purchase an emergency generator. In addition, a home run electrical system—all runways and edge lights on the taxiway will be replaced.
The VIPA Executive Director pointed out the following:
1. The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded VIPA $21,869,260 for the reconstruction and modernization of cargo handling and storage infrastructure at the Crown Bay Cargo Terminal on St. Thomas.
2. VIPA Police Division received a $153,000 grant in 2020 from the Law Enforcement Protection Commission to purchase safety and protective equipment for officers on the front line.
3. VIPA has applied to FAA to extend the deadline to collect Passenger Charges at CEKA. The U.S. Virgin Islands is forbidden to charge a departure tax as a Territory of the United States.
4. VIPA’s Engineering Department currently managed 21 projects in St. Thomas/St. John District and 15 on St. Croix. They have expanded $51,210,284.96 for capital projects in St. Thomas/St. John Districts and $55,280,406.01 for St. Croix.
5. They have substantially completed most of their reconstruction projects from damages by the hurricanes in September 2017. VIPA sustained over $85 million in damages in 119 port properties.
6. The HERA is expanded and modernized in four phases. The U.S. Department of Commerce-Economic Development Administration awarded VIPA $7 million to fund the first phase. Construction and completion of this first phase is expected in August 2022.
7. VIPA’s Board approved an airline incentive to encourage competitive pricing and attract new routes and airlines to the Territory. During the incentive period, landing fees are waived for one year, and terminal, arrival, and departure fees are reduced by 50-percent for a year.
8. The Legislature appropriated $2,050.00 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund to fully fund the replacement and repair of the existing, deteriorated tender landing pier at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility, Frederiksted, St. Croix.
9. The Legislature appropriated $900,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to address much-needed repairs and improvements to the Loredon L. Boynes Dock in Cruz Bay, St. John.
10. The dredging of the Schooner Bay at Gallows Bay Marine Facility has stalled pending the approval of the permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
11. The construction of a new cargo terminal and improvement to the dock at the Gordon A Finch Molasses Pier, Krause Lagoon, St. Croix are in progress. The $20 million project is funded in part by a $10.6 million grant for the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration. The Legislature appropriated matching funds for $3.8 million.
12. The shoreline revetment project at the Svend Ovesen Seaplane Terminal in Christiansted, St. Croix, was completed in December 2020. This federally funded project entailed constructing a new concrete bulkhead to provide a safer facility for travelers and the operators of the seaplane service. The project cost was $3.54 million.
Senators at Monday’s meeting were Chairman Kenneth L. Gittens, Dwayne M. Degraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Javan E James, Sr., Milton E. Potter, and Donna A. Frett-Gregory.

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WORKFORCE TOOK CENTER STAGE DURING COMMITTEE HEARING ON ST. CROIX

St. Croix—The Committee on Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Senator Genevieve Whitaker, received an update on workforce development in the territory during a hearing held on Friday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room, St. Croix.

The Committee heard from the VI Department of Labor (VIDOL) regarding the Unemployment Insurance, Loss Wages Assistance Program and the Federal Unemployment Assistance Program.

Gary Molloy, Commissioner, VIDOL, said the Unemployment Insurance program collects quarterly employer contributions and provides benefits under the regular unemployment insurance program. He also noted that the pandemic-related programs are: (1) the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ((PUA); (2) Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). He added that Congress passed these programs under the CARES Act of 2020.

According to Molloy, the unemployment program, as of May 2, 2020, disbursed $133,470,431 in payments during this pandemic. Of that amount in 2020, $106,977,750 was compensated and 26,492,681 as of the end of March 2021. Additional compensations were: regular unemployment compensation, $54,323,340; PEUC, $8,075,612PUA, $15,840,993; $54,323,340, FPUC; and $1,435,034 in extended benefits (EB).

He added that in addition to the above programs under the US Department of Labor, an additional $5,026,288 in lost wages program monies were disbursed. Furthermore, an executive order signed by former President Trump granted funds for supplement payments of $300.00, which ended on December 27, 2020.

He pointed out that VIDOL is currently finalizing payments on this program since no extension was given. However, he said FEMA had given VIDOL until September of 2021 to finish disbursing the remaining funds from the $7,323,000 award.

Commissioner Molloy and his staff also provided a PowerPoint presentation that detailed the process of applying for regular unemployment.  On March 29, 2021, the lobby area of the VI Department of Labor re-opened to serve customers. Individuals seeking assistance are seen by appointment only, and services are rendered utilizing virtual platforms such as Zoom, Facetime, phone, and email. In addition, the Workforce Development Team continues to serve individuals referred to the department from other partner agencies virtually.

Currently, plexiglass partitions are being installed in the Resource Rooms as the department plans to expand its service delivery to individuals who need one-on-one assistance, said Commissioner Molloy.

In Block II of the day’s schedule, the Committee received testimony on workforce development, educational development, agriculture opportunities, employment opportunities, and the community development block grant workforce development award.

David Hall, President of the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), updated senators on the Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service.  President Hall said, “Thus far, the School of Agriculture has added four certificates: Agro Business, Agro Tourism, Horticulture and Forestry, and Nursery Management.”

Additionally, the entire UVI faculty has approved a new Associate of Applied Science degree in horticulture and another in agroecology, which will be forwarded to the Board for approval.

The Committee also heard from Michael Carty, Chairman of the Virgin Islands Workforce Development Board. Carty said the Board’s current initiatives entail ongoing negotiations for deliverables contained in the One‐Stop Operator contract. “We responded to contract questions posed by the selected vendor and identified certain provisions that were non-negotiables for the Government of the Virgin Islands. We estimate this process will be complete by or before the end of July,” said Carty.

Wayne Biggs, Jr., Chief  Executive Officer of the Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority, informed senators in his prepared statement that through its four main pillars: the Economic Development Bank, the Economic Development Commission, the Enterprise Zone Commission, and the Economic Development Park Corporation, the VIEDA has facilitated investment opportunities, thereby leading to job creation and retention, as well as assisted their clients with bringing their dreams of entrepreneurship and business growth to fruition.

Before concluding, Chairwoman Whitaker thanked her colleagues and the testifiers appearing virtually for their participation in the discussions.

Committee members in attendance were Senators: Genevieve R. Whitaker, Janelle K. Sarauw, Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth L. Gittens, Milton E. Potter, Kurt A. Vialet, and non-members Novelle E. Francis, Jr. and Steven D. Payne, Sr.

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SENATORS APPROVE RESOLUTION, NOMINEES, AND BILLS IN SESSION

ST. THOMAS—Members of the 34th Legislature, led by Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory, convened in Legislative Session to consider several nominations, resolutions, and bills on Tuesday in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chambers. 

The first block of the Session began with the approval of the following Resolution and Nominees:  

  • Bill No. 34-0019 – A Resolution honoring and commending Ronaqua Russell for her heroic achievements and extraordinary performance resulted in her becoming the first African American female aviator in the United States Coast Guard to receive the Air Medal.  
  • Amy Durand, Virgin Islands Board of Pharmacy   
  • Amailyn Augustus, Virgin Islands Board of Social Work Licensure   
  • Maureen Burke-Ventura, Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority Board of Directors   
  • Kirk Lewis, Virgin Islands Board of Aquaculture and Mariculture   
  • Erica Johnson, University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees  
  • Raymond Burton, Jr., Virgin Islands Board of Architects, Engineers, and Land Surveyors   
  • Damian Cartwright, Virgin Islands Board of Architects, Engineers, and Land Surveyors   
  • Pedro Williams, Virgin Islands Public Services Commission

    Members of the Body did not confirm the nomination of Karen Korsgren to the Virgin Islands Real Estate Commission, receiving only three votes in support from the Body.

    During the subsequent blocks, the following measures were approved, as amended:

  • Bill No. 34-0005 – An Act amending Title 3 VI Code, Chapter 5, subchapter 1, section 65a, subsections €, (d), and € relating to filling vacancies on boards and commissions to clarify the limitation on the number of governmental or quasi-governmental boards and commissions on which commissioners and directors of the VI Government can serve, while serving on the board or Commission of any autonomous or semi-autonomous agency; and for other related purposes  
  • Bill No. 34-0008 – An Act amending Act No. 7453 section 2A, as amended by Act No. 7599 section 9(e) to reprogram $200,000 from Gross Receipt Taxes Bonds proceeds to renovate the Police Athletic League Headquarters in Estate Whim, St. Croix.  
  • Bill No. 34-0021 – An Act amending the Virgin Islands Code title 3, section 273(a) relating to the Public Services Commission to establish the Commission as a semi-autonomous agency; amending title 30 section 1 to eliminate certain businesses from regulation as a utility and to subject the Waste Management Authority to regulation; authorizing the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to hire a turnaround management company; adding chapter 9 to provide for the resolution of customer complaints against wireless telecommunication providers; and for other purposes related to the Public Services Commission, and the Water and Power Authority. 
  • Bill No. 34-0024 – An Act amending Act No. 8365, relating to the fiscal year 2021 operating budget for the Government of the Virgin Islands to appropriate $3,533,333.34 to the Department of Justice to pay the settlement agreement of Joe Harold d/b/a Vanterpool Enterprises v. Government of the Virgin Islands, to appropriate $2,000,000 to the Department of Labor for the payment of outstanding Worker’s Compensation payments to medical providers to appropriate $40,000 to Clean Sweep Frederiksted for the beautification of the town of Frederiksted; and amending Act No. 8411 to increase the Grand Total General Fund appropriations.  
  • Bill No. 34-0025 – An act amending Title 3, Chapter 16, Section 273 of the Virgin Islands Code by establishing minimum criteria for Public Services Commission members and changing the number of its members. 
  • Bill No. 34-0026 – An act amending Title 30, Chapter 5, subchapter II, section 103 relating to the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to establish minimum criteria for the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Governing Board and changing the number of its members; and amending section 104(b) to change the number of members of the Governing Board constituting a quorum from five to four. 

    The following Bills were favorably approved by the Body and sent to the Governor for further action: 

  • Bill No. 34-0003 – An Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 3, subchapter I, section 235(c) relating to the time within which the Zoning Administrator must act on a building permit application submitted to the Department of Planning Natural Resources to set time limits; requiring the Department to implement an Electronic Permitting System; amending chapter 5 section 296 relating to fees and fines for building permits to require that three (3) percent of the fees collected under that section be deposited into the Department’s Reclamation Fund for maintaining the electric permitting system; and amending title 12, section 911(f)(4) relating to the Natural Resources Reclamation Fund to include three (3) percent of the fees collected in 29 V.I.C. 296 as a funding source for the Natural Resources Reclamation Fund. 
  • Bill No. 34-0013 – An act appropriating $2,050,000.00 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for replacement of the existing, deteriorated tender landing pier and repairs at the Ann E. Abramson Marine Terminal in Frederiksted, St. Croix. 
  • Bill No. 34-0014 – An Act appropriating $1,600,000 from the Communities Facilities Trust Account for the four community facilities projects on St. Croix, Virgin Islands, including the projects of the pier at King’s Alley Hotel in Christiansted, the dock at Gallows Bay Marine Facility and the roll-on roll-off ramp at the Gordon A. Finch Molasses Pier at Krause Lagoon.  
  • Bill No. 34-0020 – An Act appropriating $675,000 from the Community Facility Trust Fund to the Caribbean Drag Racing Association for restoration of facilities at the St. Croix Motor Sports Complex, making an appropriation and for other related purpose(s).  
  • Bill No. 34-0023 – An Act amending Title 12 of the Virgin Islands Code by adding a chapter 2A to establish the Invasive Species Eradication Community Program; establishing the Invasive Species Eradication Community Program Fund and an Imprest Account Fund for the payment of bounties under the Program; and appropriating $10,000.00 from the Animal Fund to the Invasive Species Eradication Community Program Fund.  
  • Bill No. 34-0028 – An Act amending Title 19 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 37, Subchapter III adding section 870 to authorize registered nurses and certified registered nurse practitioners employed by a certified home health agency, hospice, or nursing home to determine and pronounce death under certain specified conditions; and requiring the Department of Health to promulgate implementing regulations. 
  • Bill No. 34-0036 – An Act appropriating the excess debt service reserve funds for the outstanding Matching Fund Revenue Bonds to fund specific urgently needed capital projects across the Territory.  
  • Bill No. 34-0041 – An Act amending Title 27, Chapter 1, subchapter I; by amending section 7 relating to the continuing medical education requirements for permanent and institutional licensees, by inserting a new section 55 relating to the Commissioner of Health’s authorization to issue licenses to radiological technologists, a new section 56 relating to the Good Samaritan Law, and a new section 57 relating to penalties; amending subchapter XI relating to the practice of podiatry; and by making technical amendments. 
  • Bill No. 34-0042 – An Act repealing Title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 23, section 415 relating to the Boards of Examiners for Medicine, Surgery, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Nursing, Optometry, Physical Therapy, Chiropractic and Podiatry and re-establishing the respective boards in Title 27 Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 1, section 1a; and establishing a temporary board. 
  • Bill No. 34-0059 – An Act extending the State of Emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands, based on the COVID19 Pandemic for an additional 60 days from May 7, 2021, to July 6, 2021.

    Members present during Legislative Session: Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory, Senators Novelle E. Francis Jr., Genevieve R. Whitaker, Marvin A. Blyden, Kurt A. Vialet, Milton E. Potter, Janelle K. Sarauw, Samuel Carrión, Franklin D. Johnson, Carla A. Joseph, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Alma Francis Heyliger, and Senator-At-Large Steven D. Payne, Sr.  

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JFL LEADERSHIP EXPLAINED DELAY OF JFL NORTH PROJECT

ST. CROIX– The Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services chaired by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr., held a public hearing on Friday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Conference Room, St. Croix. The purpose of the hearing was to update Governor Juan F. Hospital and Medical Center’s (JFL) building project.

In his opening statement, the Chairman said in recent weeks, there have been troubling reports about the hospital’s operations, coupled with additional delays in the long-awaited completion of the JFL North. The hearing was conducted to reassure the community that JFL provides quality care and is the home of skilled and compassionate healthcare providers. He added their priority is to bring healthcare to an optimal level as legislators and community members.

In concluding, he said he could not stress enough that healthcare is not a privilege. Still, a right that should be available and accessible to all Virgin Islanders, and this position shared by President Biden, clearly stated that in his address to Congress on Wednesday night.

Dyma B. Williams, Interim Chief Executive Officer, JFL, said the projects are in various stages towards completion, and all Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment have been purchased and installed, while the inventory verification is currently in progress.

CEO Williams also stated that each item received and installed is will complete Biomedical inspection, location verification, and tagging to ensure that all inventory is appropriately marked, tested, and readily identifiable. When asked what attributed to the JFL North project delay, CEO Williams said the contractual and the procurement process. She indicated that the specific basis of design elements excluded from the original RFP’s scope of work and, thereby, the original contract in early 2018.

In addition, the medical gases, fire lines, potable water, hot water, sewer lines, and other critical utility connections were to be connected to the existing, damaged JFL building. According to Williams, completed projects should have been included within the original 2018 contract. However, she added that FEMA funding requires in 2018 that the work be completed parallel with JFL North.

Williams also noted the following challenges toward completion are: (1) to connect JFL North to the existing utility, sewage, and medical gasses through the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center (VICC), which is most adjacent to JFL North, and (2) complete the Medical Building correctly. She added that JFL successfully extended the customized piping and temporary connections to the VICC to connect to JFL North in conformity with this plan.

According to her, JFL requested an assessment by their certifier. However, the certifier indicated that he would not certify the connection of the existing medical gasses and utilities from JLF to VICC and JFL North.

Regarding COVID-19 delays, CEO Williams said it resulted in the holds of the project. She pointed out that they experienced delays in delivering the furniture, fixtures, and equipment—a significant delay in completing Radiology due to the COVID-19 exposure on the vessel sailing this equipment to the Territory.

In a brief update, Williams said FLAD had been approved as the Architectural and Engineering firm for the permanent JFL hospital. Based on research and discussions with healthcare builders, including Flad, the planning and design of the permanent JFL hospital will also take about 18 to 24 months.

According to Williams, they hear the disappointment and frustration of the community, as they have had to announce delay after delay of critical health care infrastructure.

Chairman Francis, Jr., said the residents of St. Croix must have confidence in JFL leadership, staff, and the ability to provide quality care.

Senators at Friday’s hearing were Chairman Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Senators Marvin A. Blyden, Kurt A. Vialet, Samuel Carrión, Alma Francis-Heyliger, Janelle K. Sarauw, and Donna Frett-Gregory.

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THE VIRGIN ISLANDS WATER AND POWER AUTHORITY AND THE VIRGIN ISLANDS WASTE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY SHARES UPDATE

ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure chaired by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, and received testimony regarding the status of the infrastructure hardening and the integration of renewables into the infrastructure of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA). Additionally, officials from the Virgin Islands Waste Management (VIWMA) shared an update of the initiatives, programs, projects, and processes that are related to the Territory’s infrastructure. Invited testifiers are officials from WAPA, VIWMA, and the Office of Disaster Recovery.

Post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria that occurred in 2017, the top priorities of the WAPA mitigation projects are inclusive of interconnecting critical facilities and customers on the underground system, the battery systems, and placing the existing electrical overhead transmission and distribution system underground. Additionally, hybridizing the generation mix including smaller units and hardening remaining systems with composite poles are also among key components of the mitigation projects; according to WAPA Interim Director of Transmission and Distribution Ashley Bryan who testified on behalf of Interim Executive Director Noel Hodge. Bryan indicated that the deadline for completion of all mitigation projects is December 2022. WAPA Mechanical Engineer Denika Charles mentioned that although the installation of composite poles on Water Island was completed in 2019, the work on the remaining islands is ongoing.

To date, out of 2,333 composite poles a total of 813 were installed on St. Thomas, out of 4,003 poles only 1,453 were installed on St. Croix, and out of 1,960 poles, only 966 were installed on St. John. Sen. Kurt Vialet noted that sadly the contract started and then paused delaying the installation of the composite poles. He hopes that hurricane season is inactive to further allow WAPA to strengthen the transmission system and to complete pole installations. WAPA Electrical Engineer Cyril Andrew mentioned that challenges delaying the completion of the mitigation projects are the number of mandated documentation and reporting required for funding and the high cost for industry materials. Regarding repairing or replacing the water infrastructure, WAPA Interim Chief Operating Officer for the Water Systems Don Gregoire noted that WAPA along with Witt O’Brien is conducting an analysis and data collection that are essential to securing federal funding to replace severely damaged water systems on St. Croix.

Separately, VIWMA in conjunction with local and federal partners reviewed hurricane damages and now there are a total of seventy-two projects. To date, fifty-six projects are obligated and sixteen are unobligated, according to Office of Disaster Recovery Director Adrienne Williams-Octalien. The key components of the obligated projects are funding operations for management, debris clearance, completing permanent projects to harden the infrastructure, and disposing of green and white waste. VIWMA Executive Director Roger Merritt, Jr. noted that there are budgetary shortfalls such as insufficient appropriations for operations, setbacks in receiving insurance proceeds to rebuild the St. Croix Transfer Station, and the reallocation of the St. John Tourism Fund. Additional challenges are antiquated infrastructure and facilities as well as the lack of state-of-the-art equipment. Williams-Octalien cited that two major concerns about the infrastructure are the lack of funding to repair wastewater lines and separately, the Sewer Rehab Project outside of Christiansted.

Separately, Merritt mentioned that there will be Convenience Centers in both districts that will have an attendant to assist residents with organizing waste. Some of the ongoing work at bin sites include fencing, monitored scheduled bin pick-ups, and the installation of cameras. In response to the lack of enforcement officers at bin sites to curtail illegal dumping, Sen. Sarauw said, “There was an increase in the budget appropriated to VIWMA. Therefore, vacancies should be filled. Currently, VIWMA lacks an enforcement director, compliance officers, and additional staff is required. We cannot want progress when we are not doing what is necessary to achieve it.”

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