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WAPA Approves Contract Extension, Alcohol Policy Amendments

Actions taken Thursday by the V.I. Water and Power Authority’s governing board included approving the purchase of a new bucket truck for St. John.

Yauncy Milligan, WAPA line superintendent, said the purchase of a new bucket truck for St. John, which the board approved, would “ease a lot of pain” for residents on that island by allowing WAPA workers to respond quicker to power outages and maintenance problems. The midsized truck, which should be able to handle the narrow and steep streets of St. John, will cost $280,350.

The board approved a change order on the Contant Midtown Waterline Rehabilitation project in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas. Board chairwoman Elizabeth A. Armstrong, before calling for a vote on the change order, questioned Noel Hodge, director of water distribution, if all work would be done before Sept. 30 with tourist season “right around the corner.” He said it would.

The water line extends from the Harwood Highway through the Estate Contant neighborhood. The change order also calls for  additional $360,000 to be added to the $1 million contract with Islands Roads Corp. and its original deadline be extended from June 20 to Sept. 30.

Hodge said that the contract delay was not the fault of WAPA and this agreement did not waive WAPA’s right to file for damages against the contractor.

The board also approved a change order on the Frederiksted water line project from New Street to the pier. The order upped the contract amount to Rotating Equipment Corp. by $22,420 because of a rock removal contingency.

Denise Nibbs, human resources director, discussed amendments, which were later approved by the board, to the Drug and Alcohol Policy. The change that received the most discussion was lowering the blood alcohol content for disciplinary intoxication from .08 to point .04. This effectively means that any person who weighs less than 160 pounds would be over the limit after one drink.

Julio Rhymer, WAPA’s interim executive director, told the utility’s governing board that a strategic plan covering the utilities operation over the next 20 years would be ready for the board on Saturday.

Rhymer said he continues to review all aspects of the two LPG conversion projects. His review, which might have been painful for residents to hear, mentioned a valve failure as the reason for the most recent delay in the plan to convert to propane fuel.

The project first initiated in 2012 has been plagued by cost over runs and delays.  October of this year is the latest deadline for the $150 million undertaking expected to bring long-term rate relief to the territory.

In a positive report, Rhymer said the amount of money government agencies owe the utility has been paid down some over the year. The current debt is about $31 million; at this time last year government agencies owed more than $50 million.

Rhymer said the process to have a “one-payer” government system instead of each agency paying its own bill was moving forward and, when implemented, should keep the agencies receiving allotments for utility payments current with their accounts.

He expressed dismay at the way government agencies have been able to remain in arrears on their bills so long. “We can’t be the bank of convenience for anyone at this point.”

Rhymer also said the new policy of cutting off power to delinquent residents at 6:30 a.m. was working. “Now they can pay and have their power turned back on before work instead of coming home from work and finding their power off,” he said, adding that power could be restored online within a half hour.

The governing board also authorized the extension of WAPA’s liability insurance policy for a one-year period at a cost of $1.1 million. The property insurance policy was extended for a one-year period at a cost of $1.5 million.

The meeting was held on St. Croix in the Sunny Isle Conference Room in videoconference with board members on St. Thomas. Board members in attendance included: Armstrong, vice chairman Noel Loftus, secretary Juanita Young, commissioner Gustav James, director Marvin Pickering and Gerald T. Groner.

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