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St. John Land Exchange Completion Facilitates New School Construction; V.I. Energy Office Launches Assistance Program

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. provides updates during a weekly press briefing on Monday, including news of a land exchange agreement paving the way for new school construction on St. John. (Photo courtesy Government House Facebook live stream)

Officials announced the completion of a significant St. John land exchange agreement, clearing the way for the construction of a new, modern school on the island. The V.I. Energy Office has also launched an assistance program to benefit low-income families.

“I’m pleased to announce the successful closure of the St. John Land Exchange Agreement with the National Park Service,” said Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. during Monday’s Government House press briefing. “This paves the way for the construction of the state-of-the-art Julius E. Sprauve School, [grades] PreK through 12, on the island of St. John, while preserving culturally significant land and artifacts at Estate Catherineberg,” Bryan stated.

“This achievement is not just a milestone; it’s a testament to addressing a long-standing educational and community need for the residents of St. John,” Bryan proclaimed. “It signifies a giant leap forward in providing equitable educational opportunities for our students,” he added.

The governor explained that the land exchange plan, originally started in 2020, included a major collaboration between the V.I. government and organizations, including the V.I. Interior Department and the National Park Service. He expressed his gratitude to all parties involved in the success of making the project possible, including Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, the members of the 35th Legislature of the V.I., and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has authorized $133 million for the construction.

The land swap involved the trade of Whistling Cay, an uninhabited island off the coast of St. John, for Estate Catherineberg, where construction of the school will occur.

A digital rendition of the construction of the new Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John. (Photo courtesy VIDE)

“Under this agreement, the National Park Service will continue to ensure wildlife protection and uphold local access laws at Whistling Cay,” Bryan noted.

More information about the construction of the Julius E. Sprauve School, which will also eventually serve as a storm shelter and community space for island residents, is available here.

V.I. Energy Weatherization Assistance Program 

While stressing his administration’s commitment to helping provide a higher quality of life for Virgin Islanders, Bryan revealed a program enacted by the V.I. Energy Office to benefit low-income families.

“Today, I’m pleased to announce the V.I. Energy Office has officially launched its Weatherization Assistance Program,” Bryan said. “This program is one of the many components of our administration’s push to make energy independence a reality for Virgin Islands families.”

Bryan explained that the initiative aims to reduce energy costs for low-income families, specifically elderly residents, individuals with disabilities, and families with young children, by improving the energy costs at their homes.

“Through these types of weatherization improvements and upgrades, households can save an average of $372 or more each year, according to a national evaluation of the program,” Bryan stated.

Individuals who may qualify for the program to save money on energy costs are encouraged to apply on the V.I. Energy Office website or by calling 340-713-8436 on St. Croix and 340-714-8436 on St. Thomas and St. John.

Rum Cover-Over Excise Tax Update

Bryan provided a brief update regarding the rum cover-over excise tax. The USVI is still awaiting a decision on the tax legislation that would financially benefit the territory.

Plaskett is one of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to “modify the amount of money transferred to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — known as the ‘rum cover-over’ — from the excise taxes collected on rum that is produced in or imported into the rest of the United States from the two U.S. territories,” according to Senate.gov.

“There has been broad [bipartisan] support of the rum cover-over excise tax” legislation, Bryan stated. “It has taken a while, and we are constantly reassured by our friends in Congress and the Senate that [the bill will pass]. It is just [a matter of time],” he continued. Bryan assured Virgin Islanders of his commitment to informing the public about future developments.

“We are dedicated and determined to advocate for what is best for the territory. We’re going to keep you informed about what we are doing regarding ensuring that we get rum cover-over secured,” Bryan affirmed.

Community Updates 

In separate news, the governor spent several minutes during his speech to congratulate Theron Thomas on his Grammy Award, which he received on Sunday night. Thomas won the prestigious award for “2024 Songwriter of the Year” in the “Non-Classical” category.

Gov. Bryan congratulated Theron Thomas on winning a Grammy Award. (Photo courtesy Government House Facebook live stream)

“I join every Virgin Islander today beaming with pride in congratulating one of our very own, Mr. Theron Thomas, on his historic Grammy win last night for best songwriter of the year,” Bryan announced. “This is a remarkable accomplishment by a remarkable young man,” he continued.

Bryan also acknowledged and honored the beginning of Black History Month.

“Let me be the first to say Happy Black History Month,” Bryan stated. “As we celebrate Black History, let us reflect on the enduring impact of the Virgin Islanders and African Americans. Their contributions have woven an indelible thread into our nation’s fabric, enriching our culture, resilience, and progress,” he added.

“We must continue to teach and recognize their achievements, ensuring their legacy remains an integral part of our collective heritage,” Bryan said.

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