Gov. Kenneth Mapp issued his 11th proclamation extending the territory’s state of emergency Wednesday. The U.S. Virgin Islands has been under a continuous state of emergency for 11 months now.
Mapp first declared a state of emergency on Sep. 4, 2017, effective the next day, because a major hurricane was bearing down on the territory, with potential for massive devastation. Like every state and territory, V.I. law gives the governor power to mobilize the National Guard and bypass time-consuming normal processes to organize a quick response to the immediate needs after a disaster.
Under V.I. law, the governor may, for example, “(s)uspend the provisions of any statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of territorial business, or the orders, rules, or regulations of any territorial agency,” “(u)tilize all available resources of the Territory” and “(t)ake any other action he deems necessary.”
The governor can also move government employees around at will, without regard to the territory’s civil service laws for classified employees.
In a July 25 editorial asking Mapp to explain the continuing renewals of the state of emergency, the Source noted the statute giving the governor power to declare a state of emergency also says “(a)ll proclamations issued under this subsection shall indicate the nature of the emergency or major disaster, the area or areas threatened the conditions which have brought it about or which make possible termination of the state of emergency.”
None of the extension proclamations, including this 11th proclamation (11th State of Emergency Extension Proclamation) appear to meet that statutory requirement. Instead, they give a rote statement that there were hurricanes in September 2017, with no mention of specific conditions and no mention of condition which would “make possible termination of the state of emergency.”
Government House has not responded to multiple requests from the Source for clarification of the reasons for the continued extensions sent first in April and reiterated multiple times through mid-July.
At an April press conference Mapp said “we will remain under a state of emergency until we are assured that the basic tenets of life, health and safety are fully back in place to ensure that the people of this territory have access to their needs.”
April 10, the V.I. Source presented a V .I. Open Records act request for a list of all contracts entered into under the looser procurement terms of the state of emergency. Government House, Mapp and Property and Procurement Commissioner Lloyd Bough responded with silence.
On July 13, Attorney General Claude Walker responded.
“Concerning your request for all contracts entered outside of the statutorily mandated procurement process, due to the ongoing state of emergency, I have confirmed with the Department of Property and Procurement that no such contracts have been entered into by the government of the Virgin Islands. All such contracts were entered into consistent with the local procurement laws.” Walker said in part.
Mapp appeared to contradict that assertion during his July 30 press conference, saying the territory’s contract for modular schools and contracts for roof repairs were in fact entered under the looser procurement rules enabled by the state of emergency.
Mapp said the state of emergency “allows a truncated procurement process so that when we did the modular systems for the various schools, had we had to do that under a regular procurement it would have added two to three more months in the schedule but under the state of emergency it truncates those schedules.”
Mapp emphasized the need to spend federal aid quickly, because there is a period of 100 percent federal funding, then 90 percent, then 75 percent.
“So if we want to go the long route and run the clock out it is just simply going to cost us money and we are not going to be able to respond the way we need to respond,” Mapp said.
The Department of Property and Procurement has publicized information about the modular classrooms contract which Mapp said the government entered into outside of normal procurement procedures. The contract is available at the department’s website. The Source and other outlets published the government’s request for proposals on Feb. 9. The government contracted AECOM Caribe, the Puerto Rico subsidiary of AECOM, a global engineering and construction management company, in April, to supply 240 portable classrooms and 19 larger Sprung corporation steel buildings for use as auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums, at a cost of $117.9 million.
V.I. statutes do not automatically mandate extensive time periods for a bidding process. And the law allows faster processes for emergency or “exigency” situations, so it is unclear what part of the process was truncated for the modular buildings contract.
V.I. law requires that “bids shall be opened in public at the time and place stated in the newspaper notices,” that a “tabulation of all bids received shall be filed for public inspection” and “(e)ach bid, with the name of the bidder, shall be entered on a record, and each record with the successful bid indicated shall, after the award of letting of the contract, be opened to public inspection.”
A search turned up a few news stories on public spending on Sprung gymnasiums and modular classrooms to serve as a measure of what they should perhaps cost.
A Calgary, Canada, public school gymnasium cost $1.1 million Canadian dollars in 2013. At the time, the conversion rate was nearly one to one. The territory is purchasing 19 structures and that price was several years ago. If costs are 20 percent higher now, 19 similar structures might speculatively cost on the order of magnitude of $25 million, if there were no savings for a volume purchase. Construction and shipping costs are higher in the U.S. Virgin Islands too, so that speculative estimate may be low.
On July 29, the Taunton Gazette reported the small city of Taunton, Massachusetts, Board of Selectmen will vote later in August whether to spend $1.1 million for six classrooms for extra classroom space at an elementary school., from Aries Building Systems. If the territory got the price Taunton is paying, with no volume discount, that would come to $44 million for 240 classrooms.
The Danbury Newstimes reported the city of Danbury, Connecticut, will spend $1 million for eight modular classrooms, which would come to around $30 million for 240 classrooms. (See Related Links below)
At those published prices to taxpayers in other districts, the volume of structures the USVI purchased would cost between $55 million and $70 million, which is $47 million to $72 million less than the USVI contract. High shipping costs and high local construction costs would add to the price of a USVI purchase, however. And those costs were negotiated separately, in other jurisdictions, under different circumstances.