SENATORS UPDATED ON THE VIRGIN ISLANDS WASTE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY OPERATIONS, TELECOMMUNICATIONS INDUSTRY SHARE UPDATE ON INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
ST. THOMAS – The Committee on Housing, Transportation, and Telecommunications, chaired by Senator Marvin A. Blyden, convened in the Capitol Building on St. Thomas to take testimony from the Waste Management Authority on the status of landfills and solid waste and wastewater issues; and also to take testimony from providers and regulatory agencies about the status of telecommunications in the territory, including about the status of operations inclusive of landfills, implementation of the tipping fees, and the solid infrastructure projects, federal broadband funding, and customer service issues.
Senator Blyden noted that although VIWMA’s update was comprehensive, the status of the Bovoni Fire should have been included in the testimony. “I was looking forward to hearing an update regarding the status of the fire, the lessons learned during this ordeal, and a long-term plan to mitigate these issues in the future. Additionally, I wanted to hear what’s being done with respect to the pupils and residents as far as health is concerned, reopening the schools, and testing the air quality.”
Richard Merritt, Jr., Executive Director of Virgin Islands Waste Management, testified that a total of $50 million is required for disposal and treatment services and waste and water collection. However, the agency is chronically underfunded, as $35 million was allocated from the General Fund to VIWMA for FY 2024. Presently, VIWMA is diligently working on the CDBG-DR Grant Tranche 3 application, which totals one hundred million dollars. Some of the projects that the funds are designated for include the Bovoni Landfill Expansion Project, the Bovoni Landfill Closure Project, and the Anguilla Landfill Closure Project.
The Waste Management Authority testified that implementation of tipping fees for solid waste provided the necessary funds to bring landfills into compliance and settle existing liens. The daily collection, treatment, and discharge of nearly four million gallons of wastewater by VIWMA facilities Regarding solid waste, the authority is establishing waste diversion programs that focus on minimizing the deposit of recyclable and organic materials in the landfill. VIWMA is progressing with the implementation of long-term initiatives that will make waste diversion an integral part of the territory. VIWMA is in the process of implementing initiatives and replacing unmanned bins with convenient disposal centers.
Separately, policymakers were updated by key players in the telecommunicationi Industry. Based on an audit of all Viya’s communication and technology solutions, customer support was identified as the most important area for development, according to Geraldine Pitt, the CEO of VIYA. VIYA’s initiatives include Fiber to The Premises, implementation of the 5G Network, and conversion of the cable television platform to an HD digital platform. Stephan Adams, President, and CEO of viNGN, Inc. indicated that operational failure to the core system would adversely impact the company. Therefore, infrastructure upgrades are necessary and viNGN is currently replacing core network equipment because it is outdated, unserviceable, and replacement parts are unavailable. Weighing in Andrew Smith, Executive Director of the Water and Power Authority stated that WAPA’s involvement in telecommunications and broadband in the Territory entails granting telecommunications and broadband providers access to WAPA’s utility infrastructure. Furthermore, providers of telecommunications and broadband must conduct and submit the necessary engineering analysis to ensure that their equipment can be reliably installed on WAPA’s poles.
Liberty USVI officials stated that delays in obtaining permits have prevented it from constructing at the required rate to meet federally-mandated deadlines. To date, it has submitted 75 permit applications to DPW, the equivalent of 19,332 residence passes, according to Ricardo Portela, Vice President of Technical Operations for Liberty USVI and Broadband VI. To date, a total of 75 permit applications, or 19,332 residence passes, have been submitted to the Department of Public Works. DPW has authorized 18 permit packages totaling 4,000 home passes, while 57 packages are still pending approval. The remaining quantity of tickets would amount to 15,332 home passes.
Senators present at today’s committee hearing included Marvin A. Blyden, Marise C. James, Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Samuel Carriόn, Ray Fonseca, Diane T. Capehart, Milton E. Potter, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Ray Fonseca, and Carla J. Joseph.
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