May 14 2003 – Federal highways in the territory could become brighter at night if the Legislature heeds the recommendation of the Water and Power Authority's top administrator to limit the agency's liability to $25,000.
The Senate Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee met Wednesday to hear testimony on the status of public utilities infrastructure in new and affordable housing developments throughout the territory.
When discussion turned to street lights, WAPA's executive director, Alberto Bruno-Vega, told committee members that the biggest contribution the Legislature can make toward WAPA's efforts at repairing the island's street lighting infrastructure would be to amend the V.I. Code to limit the liability of the utility to $25,000.
"If that were to be done, we will be able to assist Public Works much more effectively by absorbing responsibility for lighting," Bruno-Vega said. The Public Works Department currently has responsibility of repairing federal highway streetlights, while WAPA is responsible for the rest, he said.
In December 2001, the Legislature transferred responsibility for maintaining all locally funded street lighting to WAPA from Public Works. While the Senate also appropriated $2.7 million to cover WAPA's start-up costs, none of that money has been allotted, Bruno-Vega said. In the meantime, the utility has been working on the repairs and has been providing funding to Public Works for the repair of 300 lights on Melvin Evans Highway on St. Croix.
Bruno-Vega said Public Works does not have the level of funding or manpower to complete the job alone. "No matter what we do, eventually people will blame WAPA for what goes on in the highway system," he said. "We need to somehow provide a cap on the liability of WAPA; if that was done, WAPA would be able to absorb the responsibility and afforded liability cap that goes along with it."
He said other semi-autonomous agencies in the government, including the Port Authority, have such a $25,000 liability cap.
Carol Buke, WAPA board chair, said the agency's $70 million bond issue of this year contains no provision for developing utility infrastructure specific to affordable housing communities.
She said local law makes developers responsible for providing the infrastructure for both electricity and water service, and WAPA then maintains and repairs the lines. While this year's bonds don't target affordable housing communities, the territory will benefit from projects identified for funding, she said.
Robert Moorehead, Public Works assistant commissioner, said no new money has been allocated to his department for new housing community utilities or roads.
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