A bill designed to make estimates for projects more accurately reflect the actual cost was among the measures passed on Friday by the V.I. Legislature and forwarded to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.
Virgin Islands government projects often face cost overruns, senators said during Friday’s discussion. Two projects they singled out were the proposed conversion of the Water and Power Authority’s electrical generation from fuel oil to natural gas, and the construction of a new Paul E. Joseph Stadium. The WAPA project was supposed to be done for less than $90 million but ended up costing $160 million. The stadium project was put at $17 million. The real cost for the stadium is yet to be known but everyone knows it will be more than $17 million.
Among the first batch of bills, the senators forwarded to the governor is one aimed at preventing that problem. The bill requires “front-end engineering and design be completed for each capital improvement project of … the Government of the Virgin Islands before the procurement of engineering and construction services.”
“Time and time again we have witnessed projects that have started and have taken years beyond the projected completion date to even complete the first phase of construction,” Sen. Alicia Barnes said in a news release issued after the measure passed. “We cannot continue to know what the problems are and not address them head-on. This bill will hold all involved in capital projects accountable.”
Barnes also supported the passage of a bill that she says “follows the advice of the V.I. Supreme Court and grants the Public Services Commission regulatory oversight of the Water and Power Authority and other utilities in the Virgin Islands.”
She called the measure “a collaborative effort amongst members of the 33rd Legislature to continue to address systemic issues with the V.I. Water and Power Authority.”
Sen. Janelle Sarauw said during the hearing, “We must address our utilities. The PSC must have oversight.”
Also passed in the first debate section of Friday’s hearing was a bill establishing requirements for the construction and repair of roads and highways in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Sen. Javan James Sr. said of the measure, “Our roads are in horrible condition. It is very sad. It makes us look like a Third World country.”
Another bill forwarded to the governor aims to take some pressure off the housing shortage and give options to homeowners. It was referred to as the “basement bill.” The bill gives amnesty to property owners “who have enclosed or have started to enclose the remaining usable space under their houses without submitting buildings plans to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources for approval or without the issuance of a building permit and the enclosed space or the space to be enclosed does not exceed the boundary of the existing structure.”
Another of Friday’s bills takes the pressure off homeowners. The Uniform Residential Mortgage Satisfaction Act, according to Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, puts on the bank mortgage holder the responsibility of showing a mortgage has been satisfied, rather than on the homeowner.
Also approved by the senators in the early part of Friday’s meeting was a bill relating to internet gaming and gambling licensing and fees requirements and adding the athletic director of the University of the Virgin Islands and the Little League administrator to the membership of the Virgin Islands Sports Commission.