April 12, 2007 — Daryl Mickey Lynch, chairman of the V.I. Water and Power Authority Governing Board, presided over his final meeting on Thursday.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. has decided to replace Lynch, along with board members Roy Anduze and Claude Molloy, who join WAPA Executive Director Alberto Bruno-Vega in exiting stage left this year. Bruno-Vega is retiring to his native Puerto Rico in June.
This January, members of the WAPA Employee Association (WEA) asked for Lynchs ouster after a verbal confrontation between a WAPA employee and Lynch. WEA members were protesting work conditions at the time, and the employee approached Lynch in the WAPA parking lot at Sunny Isle, asking pointed questions. Irate WEA members who witnessed the incident said Lynch began calling the worker names. Several days of off-hour protests ensued.
Cheryl Boynes-Jackson, board vice chair, will serve as acting chairman until the first meeting in July when elections are mandated by the Board's bylaws.
During Thursday's meeting, the board authorized a short-term commercial bank loan in the amount of $2.4 million to finance the annual premium for WAPAs property insurance with AIG Group. The loan will allow the utility to stretch the premium payment over a 12-month period instead of a one-time payment. The loan and its expenses are needed primarily because of the millions of dollars in outstanding government utility bills, which have left the utility low on cash.
Nellon Bowry, chief financial officer for WAPA, said that as of March 31, the V.I. government and all its agencies owed WAPA $18.3 million and that WAPAs current $9.9 million in cash reserves is beginning to shrink again.
The Housing Authority, currently under federal control, disputes a debt of over $2 million. Bowry said the disputed amount was largely due to leaks within the Housing Authoritys buildings, past the water meter.
Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital owes over $5.5 million dollars with no payment since January. When fuel prices skyrocketed last year, so did the hospitals utility bill. Bowry said the hospital made a payment of $500,000 in December and $900,000 in January, but nothing since, and nothing on the current balance.
An animated Anduze urged the board to cut off one of the hospitals four separate accounts.
Cut them off! said Anduze, banging his hand on the table with each syllable.
There will be screams but there will be action, said Anduze. Others pointed out the difficulty in shutting off power to a hospital. Anduze and Bruno-Vega suggested cutting off the hospitals warehouse might be feasible. While debate continued on when and how to disconnect the hospitals power supply, members reiterated their directive that no government entity will be allowed new service while debts are outstanding.
The board approved spending $292,675 to purchase equipment from Water Products, Inc. for automated standpipes at WAPA water facilities throughout the territory.
The idea is to fully automate, so we can operate 24-7 around the clock, said Bruno-Vega. Water truckers do not have to go to the business office; they have their own card, swipe it, and then have as much water as they like within their credit limit.
Bruno-Vega said the expenditure would be just for the equipment, which would then be installed by WAPA personnel. The board discussed various potential locations for the new standpipes, determining that they would be installed first in areas without nearby standpipes now.
It came out in the discussion portion of the meeting that two large WAPA digger trucks are out of commission due to either gross negligence or vandalism. One has a $24,000 transmission blown apart such that it allegedly could only have happened if the vehicle were slammed into reverse while going forward at a high rate of speed. The other has all of its springs broken, which allegedly could only happen if the vehicle came down hard from an unusual height for driving. WAPA is investigating the incidents, but no action was taken by the board.
During a discussion of preparations for hurricane season, Bruno-Vega said teams of key WAPA personnel are reviewing bids from companies that can immediately mobilize off-island utility workers to assist in the restoration of the distribution system, if the need arises. WAPAs inventory of transformers and poles is being replenished and repair and maintenance of equipment, including digger trucks, is in progress. WAPA will again approach Hovensa about getting fuel on a deferred-payment plan to build up supplies to 75 percent of capacity by August. Having the tanks filled near to capacity makes them more stable during bad storms.
In executive session, the board approved Bowry to be the acting executive directive once Bruno-Vega leaves June 1. Bowry will serve in that capacity until a permanent replacement is found. The board voted to retain the services of Mycoff and Associates, a firm highly regarded for recruiting utility executives, to assist in the search for a new executive director.
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