In its first in-person meeting since the start of the COVID-19 national health emergency, the Water and Power Authority Governing Board approved measures to improve utility infrastructure Thursday. Participating board members also heard updates on WAPA’s talks with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over long-term mitigation projects.
They also heard from CEO Andrew Smith, who delivered a report on the seaweed incursion that threatens to curtail operations at the water plant at Estate Richmond on St. Croix. Smith said utility crews shifted into response mode prior to the arrival of federal emergency responders.
“We’ve had sargassum before, but not like this,” he said.
Several projects, mostly on St. Croix, received board approval.
The board approved no-cost extensions for an underground storage facility and two water distribution projects. It approved a $6.7 million project to improve its geographic information system and $7.1 million to rebuild a water line in Estate Campo Rico. Both measures are federally funded; one from FEMA, the other from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We are upgrading the GIS (Geographic Information System) system because almost the entire transmission and distribution infrastructure of the utility was repaired (or) replaced following hurricanes Irma and Maria,” said acting spokesperson Nyomi Gumbs. “Given the devastation, priority was placed on service restoration and not mapping the exact location and installation of poles, transformers, etc. The GIS effort will precisely map the transmission and distribution infrastructure which will facilitate faster outage response times as well as improve and expedite future system planning needs.”
No-cost extensions were approved for the container port underground construction project at Hanna’s Rest. Similar approvals were granted for underground water system projects in Estate Midland and Estate Golden Grove.
WAPA’s chief of operations for water production said the old distribution lines in Midland and Golden Grove had been used for the past 60 years and were becoming a frequent source of leaks and line loss.
Chief Financial Officer Jacob Lewis asked for and received board approval to negotiate line-of-credit extensions from First Bank and Banco Popular. Board members set a condition on those talks, that fees and associated costs not exceed $400,000.
Chief Operating Officer Michael Sharp asked for more time to work out a deal with Aggreko LLC for continued use of leased generators. The board granted that request, along with $1.05 million to cover costs for a new lease. But some board members questioned the performance of those generators and Aggreko’s ability to deliver reliable power.
Sharp said those concerns have been raised during the extension talks.
Board members also authorized Smith to work out the terms of a new lease with property owners at Sunny Isle Shopping Center. The utility’s operations hub and business center serving St. Croix water and power consumers is located at Sunny Isle.
WAPA entered its first lease with Sunny Isle in 2002. The lease being sought includes an option for a 10-year extension of whatever agreement is reached.