Richard Motta, director of communications for the governor, opened a news conference Monday with information about an area of disturbance the National Hurricane Center is watching for possible development later this week. Updates will be provided on the V.I. Territory Emergency Management Agency website.
Then government officials talked about speeding up the pace of recovery and rebuilding the territory after the 2017 hurricanes.
“Recovery is on the way,” said Adrienne Williams-Octalien, director of the V.I. Disaster Recovery.
There have been delays in the approval of plans and funding because the V.I. Government and the U.S. Government haven’t agreed on some building standards.
Williams-Octalien said FEMA just agreed to rebuild schools to baseline industry standards and roads to federal standards rather than repairing to a pre-hurricane condition.
“We’ve been in a holding pattern. Now, we’re closer to the end than the beginning,” as far as rebuilding the territory’s schools, she said.
Another hold-up has been the Trump administration’s belief that the Virgin Islands doesn’t have the capacity to utilize funds properly and have said they plan to delay dispensing certain funds. In an attempt to refute that theory, government agencies that normally do not receive large amounts of funding are undergoing capacity assessment, Williams-Octalien said. Staffing, technical assistance and other gaps are being looked at to increase their ability to manage funds.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s first priority for rebuilding is reconstruction of the Gov. Juan Luis Hospital, which should be online next spring, according to Williams-Octalien.
His second priority is schools and third priority is roads.
The Federal Highway Department has designated $40 million for roads and Public Works Commissioner Nelson Petty Jr. talked about some of the projects that will be worked since federal road standards have been adopted. Donoe Bypass on St. Thomas and Northside Road on St. Croix and others will be designed then constructed with the first $30 million. Next, traffic signals and signs will be rebuilt.
There is also funding for flood control, Petty said. St. Thomas will have $130 million to repair Turpentine Run and Savan gut and St. Croix will have $9.2 million for La Grange flood control.
Commissioner Daryl Griffith of the Housing Finance Authority gave an update on the $1.8 billion allocated to his department for recovery and rebuilding. So far, $242 million is being used now and an action plan for $779 million has been approved. They are just waiting for an access agreement. Another $774 million will be available for mitigation after the community voices its wishes.
“The territory has done its part,” he said. “We want the community intricately involved in this process.”
Housing Finance is still trying to line up more contractors – small and large – to rebuild homes under the Envision Tomorrow project, Griffith said. Homes that were so damaged they didn’t qualify for the first recovery program are at the top of the list that already has 1,400 applicants. There are only 29 contractors, so far, with many more needed. Griffith pointed out that this grant will pay contractors directly rather than reimbursing the government for paying invoices.
Lawrence Kupfer, executive director for the V.I. Water and Power Authority, was on hand also to give an update on recent power outages. He said the St. Croix island-wide outage on Sunday was not intended and Monday’s outage on St. Thomas was because one unit was destroyed during Hurricane Irma. He said the problem should be resolved with the help of the New York power company, including three technical specialists who will identify and help control the issues.
“WAPA understands it is unacceptable,” Kupfer said. “We think the technical issues will be (repaired) in a couple of weeks, not a couple of years.”