Nov. 21, 2002 – The Water and Power Authority governing board decided on Thursday to continue investigating a $2.2 million land purchase made two years ago without board approval.
At a Wednesday special meeting of the board which failed to garner a quorum, those present heard testimony concerning WAPA's January 2000 purchase of the Devcon property adjacent to the Richmond power plant on St. Croix.
At that meeting, WAPA employees familiar with the purchase described the acquisition as important to the future of the utility because the land was suitable for expansion and improvement of plant facilities and security.
The land was bought with money from 1998 bond proceeds. But Carol Burke, board chair, said the transaction did not conform to an outline of approved expenditures of those funds. And "it never came to the board's attention," she said.
And ownership of portions of the property designated as "filled land" may be in question. Only the government may own such land, which is kept in trust for the people of the Virgin Islands.
Burke also cited environmental concerns about WAPA storing aging transformers on the property. She said disciplinary action against the employees responsible may be forthcoming.
"There are a lot of issues the board needs to look at," Burke said, adding that an independent investigator could be hired to check out the situation "at the board's discretion."
Another matter addressed by the board on Thursday was the failure of Juan Luis Hospital to pay its utility bills in recent months.
WAPA's chief financial officer, Robert Vodzack, said the hospital owes $2.4 million for electricity and $500,000 for water. Despite an agreement reached with the authority last summer, he said, the facility is in default on payments dating from June.
"Our biggest issue is our governmental accounts receivable," Vodzack told the board. "Public Works, Education and Juan Luis are not maintaining their payments."
He said the utility has filed a motion asking the court to order the hospital to pay up. "They keep making excuses, and they've made no payments at all," WAPA attorney Cathy Smith said of the hospital administration.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron, who is a WAPA board member, said situation is dire. "The hospital is obviously one that can't turn away patients," he said. "I'm not sure what would happen in a lawsuit, but I can assure you that the public and patients will suffer — it's a no-win situation."
In other business, the board voted to increase the salary of Glenn Rothgeb, WAPA's assistant executive director who has served as acting chief executive since May, to $130,000 from about $101,000.
It also designated four employees to receive leadership awards for exemplary work ethics and job knowledge: Godfrey Saunders and Karl Knight on St. Croix and Winston Smith and Celia Richardson-Hodge on St. Thomas.
Board members present Thursday were Burke, Alphonso Franklin, Gerard Luz James Sr. and Stridiron.
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