Under a big tent set up Thursday in Franklin Powell Park, officials of the Water and Power Authority announced the start of a $100 million mitigation project to make Cruz Bay fully reliant on an underground electrical distribution system.
WAPA officials made the announcement during a town meeting held outdoors, observing pandemic precautions. About a dozen people took seats as discussions began around 6 p.m.
WAPA Chief Operating Officer Greg Rhymer and Project Manager Cordell Jacobs provided details about the upcoming underground mitigation project. St. John Administrator Shakima Jones said work in Cruz Bay should begin by March.
When the mitigation project is done, Rhymer said, overhead utility poles and distribution lines will be taken down. The work will be carried out in three phases.
Phase One, starting at Mongoose Junction, is expected to begin in March.
“This will allow us more quickly to recover from storm events,” Rhymer said. “We’re introducing you to the first underground hazard mitigation project in the territory, here on St. John.”
Residents were told to expect traffic disruptions in town while the work is going on. The most disruptive portions of the project are expected to come when contractors lay underground duct banks, which involves opening roadways.
Jacobs said in the first phase, contractors with Haughland VI will lay power lines from Frank Bay, near Gallows Point, to Mongoose Junction.
Phase Two plans call for buried power lines running from WAPA’s Frank Bay substation to the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic in Susannaberg. Jacobs said the final phase of undergrounding would carry power lines along Route 104 towards the St. John Westin Resort.
The work is expected to affect WAPA Feeders 7E – from St. John Substation to Mongoose Junction, Feeder 9E – from the substation to the clinic, and Feeder 9E – from the substation to the Westin Resort.
The initial cost for Phase One was pegged at $15 million. The work is expected to be completed in 11 months, the project manager said.
Details about the St. John project were displayed on a map set out on a folding table near the tent. Residents stopped on their way home from the evening ferry commute to take a look.
The operations chief called sinking the electrical lines a major step for the utility’s ability to speed service restoration after a natural disaster. He added that WAPA’s goal is to provide fifty percent of its customers with underground line service.
Rhymer asked for patience from those who gathered for Thursday’s town meeting, and the wider St. John community.
Utility officials said the federal government has vetted several mitigation projects for St. John and will fully fund the buried cable project, installation of emergency generators for Cruz Bay and Coral Bay and the construction of solar-powered mini distribution-grids for portions of the island.
At the meeting wound down, Jacobs told a reporter the start of the mitigation project depends on the receipt of permits from Planning and Natural Resources, Coastal Zone Management division.
“We expect to get the Coastal Zone permits by March 15,” he said.