Published: Apr 29, 2021

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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