The Source sat with Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. recently to talk about his first six months in office and some of the issues facing his administration. In the fourth part of our video series, the governor shares more about what the territory is doing to become more resilient after two Category 5 storms hit the territory in 2017, challenges with paying subcontractors, plans to help residents who don’t qualify for federal rebuilding programs and becoming more inclusive as a territory.
Speaking about rebuilding after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the governor said his administration has received at least five action plans from different community groups. Next steps are getting all remaining composite polls in, getting the roofing program up again, helping those who don’t qualify and securing reliable power.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but we are doing the things that will make us more resilient.”
Speaking more about the Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded local roofing program, the governor gave some insight into the challenge of paying local subcontractors – mostly invoicing and the need for the government to make more timely payments to primary contractors – and changing things up the next time around. On the federal level, rebuilding is a slower process, since everything is put under a “microscope” when it comes to meeting different requirements and guidelines, and Bryan said there’s room for improvement.
Through the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program, FEMA reimburses the territory for basic emergency repairs allowing Virgin Islanders to remain in their homes and communities while permanent repairs are performed.
More than $280 million has been provided to the territory for STEP. The Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority administered STEP and called it Emergency Home Repairs VI.
Switching gears, the governor spoke more about local Pride Month events, and some of backlash experienced within the overall community. While both districts did host several different forums and shows, a Pride Parade on St. Thomas was cancelled due to safety concerns and social media forums lit up with criticism after rainbows were painted on sidewalks, fire hydrants and other areas around the island.
Recalling his own instances with bullying growing up, Bryan said he’s contemplated the idea of “being different.”
“Every chance I have to stand up for the underdog, the ones that get picked on, I’m going to do that,” he said. “And it’s not just about the LGBTQ community. It’s about everyone that is different in this very small town that is made to feel uncomfortable because they’re not like everyone else.”
More of our conversation with the governor will follow this week.