Oct. 25, 2008 — Nine days after Hurricane Omar ran roughshod over St. Croix, the island's electrical power is back up to nearly 94 percent of load.
"Some areas are more densely populated," V.I. Water and Power Authority Executive Director Hugo Hodge, Jr., said, making his presentation before WAPA's monthly board meeting. "(Now) you're building one to two spans to pick up one or two customers."
There are still some pockets where the damage is hard to see, and WAPA crews have to backtrack over areas they thought were operative to locate and repair the damage, according to Hodge.
One WAPA board member, Gerald Groner, said he is still without power.
Hodge lauded the dedication and efforts of the WAPA restoration crews, whom he said worked 16- and 20-hour days, many in excess of their required time, to get power on line. He said that he had noted the signs of fatigue and dehydration amongst the crews, but also their determination to bring power back to customers.
"When you are within an hour or an hour and a half of being done and the residents are looking at you, it is hard to get the guys to come back in (from working)," Hodge said.
Hodge told of one lineman whose daughter arrived at the job site with a birthday cake for him, and they had a little celebration there at the site. When the man finished his slice of cake he went right back up on the line to finish the job, Hodge said.
He and the board also lauded the good will of the residents of St. Croix, many of whom brought water to the crews.
Hodge himself spent much of the last nine days in the field on St. Croix, which was seen as a morale booster by WAPA personnel, according to Assistant Chief Financial Officer Maurice Sebastien.
"He is compassionate because he is over there with the crews," Sebastien said. "He's not sitting in his air-conditioned office, he's out in the field. I give him some credit."
The board also authorized petitioning the Public Services Commission to use up to $3 million of WAPA's electrical self-insurance fund to pay for Hurricane Omar preparedness, response and restoration.
WAPA will file with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement following the storm; however, the agency has still not made a declaration of an emergency which worried some staff.
"It's taking too long," Sebastien said.
The storm took an administrative toll on the Authority, delaying the monthly accounting activity report, but WAPA is current with oil and vendor payments according to Hodge who promised a full report at the next meeting."
The board also resolved to petition PSC to relax guidelines requiring two counterparty bids for the Authority to be able to enter into a hedging contract. With financial giant Morgan Stanley longer participating in a hedge fund program, there is only one player Citibank that the Authority can look to for a counterparty bid.
The board also agreed to refinance $18 million in existing lines of credit with which are due to expire at the end of this month.
In addition, the board authorized a $40 million loan from FirstBank to pay its bill to Hovensa. This action came as a result of last month's $17.5 million payment by V.I. government of its past due WAPA bill. This payment allowed WAPA to pay down $8 million of the $48 million it owed to Hovensa (as well as debts to other vendors), reversing HOVENSA's cash terms requirement. Hovensa now considers WAPA current on its bill and has returned the Authority to net 30 days billing.
The $40 million will be paid directly to Hovensa through a line of credit, which will be amortized over five years, but paid for in three, with a balloon payment at the end of the third year.
"If we had not gotten the $17.5 million from the government, we would have been toast," Board member Noel Loftus said, referring to the need that Hurricane Omar put on the Authority to order from vendors, to whom WAPA had been indebted before the payment.
The board will file for another Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause reduction with the PSC. The current LEAC period ends in December, and the Authority has 45 days to file with the PSC prior to the end of the period.
Board members were optimistic that the filing might be rapidly approved by the PSC in time for a December reduction.
The board also approved the purchase of two trucks and chippers for use in vegetation control on St. Thomas and on St. Croix at a cost of $54,000.
Attending today's meeting were: Donald Francois, Gerald Groner, V.I. Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon, Jr. (who attended by teleconference), Noel Loftus, Commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources Robert Mathes; Housing, Sports and Recreation Commissioner St. Clair Williams and Juanita Young. Board members Brenda Benjamin and Cheryl Boynes-Jackson were absent.
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