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Initial Phase of Renovations at Walter I.M Hodge Pavilion Marks a Milestone Towards Revamping Public Housing in the Territory, Affirms VIHA

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The Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) celebrates the successful renovation of the initial 82 units at Walter I.M Hodge Pavilion, marking the completion of the first phase in a series aimed at transforming public housing within the territory. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony held on Thursday, officials proudly showcased the revamped apartments to the community.

VIHA Executive Director, Robert Graham, expressed his enthusiasm stating, “The ongoing construction symbolizes our earnest commitment to revitalizing the territory’s public housing infrastructure. It’s a tangible step forward that encapsulates our mission.” He emphasized that the initiative is designed to not only enhance living conditions but also foster community engagement and empowerment, encouraging the first 82 households to actively participate in the resident council to further refine communal programs.

The project, backed not by HUD or local funds, but by investor equity, has gathered substantial annual funding. This financial support underscores the investors’ trust in VIHA’s ‘Right Path’ resident services plan aimed at uplifting every resident within Hodge Pavilion.

James Benton, the President of J Benton Construction, LLC, outlined the key improvements made to the apartments including modernized design elements, updated plumbing and electrical systems, and the incorporation of energy-efficient lighting and fixtures. The premises now also boast solar panels, emergency generators, and solar-powered outdoor lighting, reinforcing the community’s move towards sustainability. Additional amenities like a senior center, playground, community gardens, and renovated basketball courts and community center were highlighted, aiming to cater to the residents’ diverse needs.

The meticulous efforts poured into this project were evident, with Benton revealing that 20 companies and over 300 tradespeople contributed a combined 250,000 hours to ensure the success of this initial phase. This collective endeavor resonates with the broader goal of promoting better living standards, which as Michael Lohr from the Urban Investment Group of Goldman Sachs Asset Management noted, is crucial for improved health outcomes, economic mobility, and employment opportunities.

Interim Executive Director of the VI Housing Finance Authority, Dayna Clendinen, reminisced about the unity displayed post the 2017 hurricanes, stating that the collaborative spirit fostered then continues to drive the rehabilitation efforts at Walter Hodge. The undertaking showcases the remarkable outcomes achievable through concerted effort and resilient partnerships.

Senate President Novelle Francis lauded the novel design approach which he believes will set a positive precedent for affordable housing in the region. Meanwhile, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. reiterated the significance of collective endeavor, spotlighting the pivotal roles of investment partners, legislators, private sector stakeholders, and governmental employees in propelling not just the Walter Hodge Pavilion project, but the broader vision of transforming the territory’s housing landscape.

This event reflected a shared optimism towards creating a conducive living environment, empowering residents, and fostering a sense of community, which are fundamental for the holistic development of the territory.

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Government

Marijuana Regulations Approved in the U.S. Virgin Islands

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The U.S. Virgin Islands has taken a significant leap forward in its cannabis program with Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s approval of comprehensive rules and regulations governing marijuana use and distribution. The announcement was made during a press briefing on Tuesday by Government House Communications Director Richard Motta.

The newly sanctioned regulations establish a structured framework for both medicinal and adult use of cannabis. This dual approach aims to facilitate recreational cannabis use under regulated conditions while ensuring its availability for therapeutic purposes. According to Mr. Motta, the regulatory environment “provides special protections and benefits to medicinal cannabis users.”

Previously available in draft form for public comment, the regulations detail the process for obtaining various licenses and certifications necessary for participating in the cannabis industry. These roles include designated caregivers, prescribing physicians, licensees, third-party vendors, and consultants. Mr. Motta emphasized the importance of contacting the Office of Cannabis Regulation for those interested in getting involved.

Governor Bryan has expressed pride in the legislative and executive efforts that led to these comprehensive regulations. Notably, the Virgin Islands is the first U.S. jurisdiction to allow for the sacramental use of cannabis, recognizing its cultural significance. “With a closed economy such as ours, the governor believes it is important to provide opportunities for residents to participate in the program, whether as business owners, partners, employees, or patients,” added Motta.

In addition to facilitating legal cannabis use, the regulations address past injustices related to cannabis convictions. The new rules include provisions for the automatic expungement of certain cannabis-related crimes, enabling individuals previously marginalized due to past convictions to participate in the legal cannabis market. This initiative is part of a broader effort to promote social equity within the industry.

The governor’s approval marks the culmination of a long process of drafting and vetting. The regulations have been reviewed for legal sufficiency and are now ready for implementation. “For those of you who have been eagerly anticipating the rules and regulations for the adult use and medicinal cannabis rollout in the territory, they have officially been completed,” announced Motta.

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Bryan Names Kevin Rodriguez as Interim Island Administrator for St. Thomas/Water Island District

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Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has appointed Kevin Rodriguez, his former deputy chief of staff, as the Interim Island Administrator for the St. Thomas/Water Island District. This change follows Administrator Avery Lewis’s decision to pursue a seat in the 36th Legislature of the Virgin Islands.

Under Virgin Islands law (Title 18, Chapter 1, Subsection 2 of the Virgin Islands Code), candidates for the Virgin Islands Legislature must take a leave of absence from their government positions from the date they file their nomination petition until the general election concludes. Lewis filed his nomination papers on May 22, prompting the need for this interim leadership adjustment.

“Avery Lewis has been a dedicated and committed servant to the St. Thomas/Water Island district. Although we will miss his contributions in his current role, we support his decision to run for the Legislature and wish him success in his future endeavors,” Governor Bryan said.

Rodriguez’s appointment as Interim Island Administrator is backed by his extensive experience in public administration and his deep understanding of the community’s needs and challenges. Gov’t House officials believe his leadership will ensure a smooth continuation of services during this transitional period.

“I am confident that Kevin Rodriguez will effectively assist the residents of St. Thomas and Water Island during this time of transition. His proven record of effective management and community engagement makes him well-suited to advance our progress,” Governor Bryan added.

The governor expressed his gratitude to both Lewis for his service and Rodriguez for stepping into this vital role at a significant time for the islands.

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Central Government Staff Honored at Employee of the Year Ceremony

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The Government of the Virgin Islands recently celebrated its most outstanding employees in a series of ceremonies on St. Croix and St. Thomas. More than 6,000 government employees were eligible, but only a select few were honored for their exceptional service and contributions to their divisions and the community.

At the ceremony in St. Croix, Division of Personnel Director Cindy Richardson highlighted the critical role these employees play in enhancing the operations of their agencies and improving the quality of life across the territory. She lauded the honorees for their exemplary service and professionalism.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. dispelled the notion that government workers are lackadaisical, instead praising the honorees for their dedication and impact. “You are pretty special,” he affirmed, acknowledging their positive influence within the community and among their colleagues.

Senate President Novelle Francis identified the honorees as the “cream of the crop,” and spotlighted Alfred Donowa, the employee of the year from the facilities management division in St. Croix. Donowa was praised for setting a high standard for his team. In St. Thomas, Adele Thomas was recognized as the employee of the year for her role as a receptionist in the Legislature’s offices.

The Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach also took part in the celebrations, commending employees like Carmen Francis from the Real Property Tax Division for her exceptional customer service, and Chris George from the Geographic Information Systems Division for his leadership.

The ceremonies not only recognized the honorees’ professional excellence but also their passion for their roles within the government. Lieutenant Governor Roach emphasized the importance of ongoing professional development to maintain job satisfaction and retain valuable staff.

The list of honorees included individuals from various departments such as Rachel Haverkorn of the Office of the Governor and Marianne Navarro from the Virgin Islands Lottery. From the Department of Agriculture, Maxine Richards was honored, and from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, Diana Gumbs took the title. Belgrave Stedman was recognized from the Water and Power Authority, celebrated for his achievements despite public skepticism about the utility’s successes.

These ceremonies serve as a vital reminder of the dedicated individuals who contribute significantly to the functioning and improvement of government services in the Virgin Islands.

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