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 telecommunications providers on the implementation of the “Call Before You Dig” laws in the Territory. Additionally, the Department of Public Works shared an update on capital projects. Senators were also informed of the status of affordable housing and disaster relief issues in the Virgin Islands.
“I am pleased that representatives from AT&T Mobility USVI, Inc., Viya, and vINGN are present because it is obvious that based on the testimonies provided that we must communicate, meet, and find solutions to longstanding challenges regarding the “Call Before You Dig” laws. Legislation has come forth as a result of this meeting pursuant of the Virgin Islands Code,” said Sen. Blyden.
Previously, AT&T was in the process of deploying additional fiber on specific routes in support of its FirstNet Network, according to the Virgin Islands Telephone Corporation Chief Technology Officer Morris Reid. As a result, Reid noted that AT&T violated the “Call Before You Dig” laws which established that all stakeholders and operators who control an underground facility, public or private facility that is buried underground must be notified before digging underground to install fiber optic cables. Furthermore, Federal laws mandate that AT&T utilize existing infrastructure to execute the FirstNet contract. On the contrary, Reid stated that representatives of AT&T did not notify utility providers in the Virgin Islands before digging the streets resulting in service interruption of thousands of Viya customers on St. Croix.
Similarly, vINGN President and CEO Stephan Adams indicated that AT&T disrupted internet service to customers on St. John because AT&T unintentionally cut vINGN’s main fiber optics cables located on St. Thomas. Adams mentioned that AT&T should not overlap the infrastructure of vINGN’s existing routes but utilize them. AT&T Mobility USVI, Inc., Legal Counsel Tom Bolt stated that the “Call Before You Dig” laws in the Territory are flawed. Stakeholders and Operators lack communication and collaboration, a third-party Notification Center should be contracted instead of the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI), and a unified map of existing underground facilities are non-existent; according to Bolt. Ultimately, GVI issued a temporary Work Stop Order to AT&T to cease digging the ground.
Separately, the V.I. Department of Public Works Commissioner Nelson Petty, Jr. noted that to date DPW was issued $68 million out of $80 million from the Federal Highway Emergency Relief program for capital projects. Overall, DPW was granted a total of $664,667,875.70 for 195 federal projects or hurricane damaged roadways and facilities Territory-wide. Petty noted that Federal monies are project-specific and cannot be used to maintain roadways, install guardrails or fix potholes. That continues to be the fiscal responsibility of GVI. Regarding transportation, the construction for the Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF) on St. Thomas VITRAN is completed, upgrades will occur to OMF for St. John VITRAN and a new OMF will be built for the St. Croix VITRAN. Lastly, V.I. Housing and Finance Authority (VIHFA) Executive Director Daryl Griffith shared an update. VIHFA has tax credits totaling $4,846,341 in tax credits. Out of that $3,424,248 is for Donoe Re-development project and $532,900 in tax credits for Concordia Manor. The Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery for the Territory is available in five tranches. The first allocation totals $242,684,000 and the second totals $779,217,000 for unmet activities. To date, the Emergency Housing repaired and replaced roofs, conducted interior home repairs, and there is the construction of housing communities inclusive of Whispering Hills, Queen Louise Townhomes, Estate Solitude, Ross Taarneberg, and Mount Pleasant.