ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure, and Telecommunications chaired by Sen. Marvin Blyden, convened in a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony on the status of the Virgin Islands Waste Management (VIWMA) and the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA).
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are getting updates from two agencies that have a major impact on the lives of Virgin Islanders which is VIWMA and VIHFA. There are several challenges that they are facing, and they need to be addressed,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Sen. Blyden. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This meeting is taken place during a pivotal time due to the adverse effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Tourism Industry and the economy. Many people continue to work from home, and some lost their jobs permanently. There is great uncertainty as to what the future of the economy holds for us.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Regarding solid waste, VIWMA continues to permanently remove public unmanned bin sites to stop illegal dumping and unsanitary practices of residents and visitors. To ensure the proper disposal of solid waste and municipal solid waste, the Authority implemented best management practices for the transportation and disposal of waste at the Bovoni and Anguilla Landfills; according to Ann Hanley, Interim Executive Director of VIWMA who shared the update. One of the goals of the Authority in collaboration with the private and public sector, is to build and operate convenience centers that are placed throughout the Territory. Senator Blyden cautioned, however, that the Authority must make equal efforts to increase home garbage collection to accommodate the thousands of residents who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have transportation to take their trash to a convenience center.
In response to Sen. Alicia BarnesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ inquiry about a Comprehensive Waste Management Plan and the cost to finance it, Hanley noted that the Authority is in the process of reviewing and revising the plan. Separately, VIWMA has an outstanding debt estimated at $45 Million to unpaid vendors. Considering the 2020 Hurricane Season, Hanley indicated that to protect vendor payments, grant administrators developed packages for haulers/contractors, drafted emergency contracts, and determined the issuance of contracts to be executed during the occurrence of natural disasters.
Sen. Athneil Ã¢â‚¬Å“BobbyÃ¢â‚¬Â Thomas inquired if VIWMA identified a funding source to pay vendors and Hanley stated there is not. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There must be another way to circumvent this locally. Local contractors and subcontractor must be paid, not just the major contractors,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Sen. Allison DeGazon. Presently, the wastewater collection system remains damaged in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria that hit the Territory in 2017. Malfunctioning mechanical and electrical operations, excessive debris, line blockages, and severe damages to the pump are some of the challenges plaguing the wastewater collection system. Hanley mentioned that VIWMA submitted seventy-seven project worksheets to FEMA totaling $40,845,932 to complete projects.
Lastly, The VIFHA Executive Director Daryl Griffith shared an update. Griffith stated the Office of Inspector General findings are inaccurate regarding sole-source procurement, mismanagement of cost overruns, and an inadequate financial management system. To date, FEMA paid a total of $343 million to STEP contractors with remaining invoices estimated at $406 million. Griffith mentioned that as of June 2020 the Envision Homeowner Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program, has a grant totaling $250K, with 733 active homeowners enrolled in the program of which 23 homes are assigned to a contractor. The low-income Tax Credits, that provide an income tax credit to corporate equity investors for low-income housing projects was appropriated $3,217,500. Lastly, Griffith indicated that VIHFA utilizes the U.S, Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Consolidated Plan to determine the market conditions in the Territory.