Connect with us


Legislative Progress and Rezoning Amidst Power Interruptions: A Glimpse into the Recent Senate Session



In a comprehensive legislative session last Friday, marked by intermittent power outages, senators passed crucial resolutions, confirmed nominees to pivotal boards, and approved several leases and zoning modifications. These decisions are pivotal for the governance and development of the territory, impacting sectors from energy to real estate.

Lionel Selwood, a veteran in the energy sector, received confirmation to join the Water and Power Authority Governing Board. His nomination had previously received commendations from lawmakers, a sentiment that persisted during Friday’s session. Senator Franklin Johnson lauded him as one of the most competent candidates for WAPA’s board, emphasizing the necessity of his expertise to rectify existing issues within the sector.

Angel Dawson, the newly appointed Administrator of the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS), also received a warm welcome and approval from the senators. His commitment to working with present and future legislatures to uphold the trust bestowed upon government employees and retirees was met with appreciation and hope for the stability and growth of GERS.

Post-confirmation, the focus shifted to proposed leases and zoning amendments. The Senate unanimously approved the leases, previously scrutinized and endorsed by the committees on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance, as well as Rules & Judiciary. The rezoning requests, particularly for the island of St. Croix, were presented by Leia LaPlace-Matthew, a territorial planner at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

One significant rezoning request involved the former Outrigger Hotel, Restaurant, and Yacht Club, aiming to revitalize the property into a multifunctional facility, including a hotel, restaurant, and marina operation. The approval for rezoning from strictly residential use to a less restrictive classification is seen as a catalyst for redevelopment in Christiansted, aligning with the department’s vision for urban renewal.

Another approved rezoning request pertained to a 12.62-acre parcel in Estate Paradise, currently non-compliant with its zoning category. The rezoning from low-density residential to commercial is expected to rectify this non-conformity and facilitate business expansion, considering its proximity to the airport and the existing industrial character of the surrounding area.

The third variance request was for plots in Frederiksted, with aspirations to transform the property into a building contractor’s office, complete with shops and general contractor services. The enthusiasm surrounding this proposal stems from its potential to enhance the territory’s homebuilding capacity, a crucial need as the Virgin Islands continue to rebuild post the 2017 hurricanes.

Several bills also crossed their final legislative milestone on Friday, including Bill 35-0082, aimed at regulating the suspension and expulsion of young students, and Bill 35-0083, establishing distinct horse racing commissions for each district, along with related anti-doping regulations for racehorses. The budget bills, crucial for funding operations across government branches and agencies, also received approval, along with the continuation of the government’s group insurance policies with leading providers.

Concluding the session, senators passed a resolution honoring the VI National Guard on its 50th anniversary and reallocated $4.9 million from capital projects under the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority to diverse projects.

This legislative session, despite its interruptions, marked significant advancements in various sectors, reflecting the collective effort to foster development and address the pressing needs of the territory. The approved measures and resolutions are steps towards a resilient and progressive future for the Virgin Islands, ensuring the well-being and prosperity of its residents.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Extensive Efforts and Over $1 Million Expenditure in Bovoni Landfill Fire Mitigation Detailed to Lawmakers



In a detailed briefing on Wednesday, lawmakers were informed about the extensive multi-agency response to the prolonged Bovoni Landfill fire that occurred in September. Daryl Jaschen, the V.I. Territorial Management Agency Director, represented various government bodies in his testimony.

Jaschen highlighted the unified command’s rigorous efforts, which met bi-daily until October 4, utilizing over 1.85 million gallons of water amidst challenging dry conditions at the landfill. He emphasized the crucial support from Puerto Rico’s National Guard, facilitated by an Emergency Management Assistance Compact, for which $74,000 will be reimbursed. This amount is additional to the over $1 million expended locally on the response.

Furthermore, Jaschen shed light on the qualitative data collection during the firefighting operations, aimed at providing vital information on health conditions, safety, clean water access, and evacuation procedures. This data was pivotal for the V.I. Department of Health’s educational campaigns on health risks from smoke and pollutants. Plans for a townhall meeting by VIFEMS, VITEMA, and the Department of Health were disclosed, focusing on using this data to identify community priorities and solutions.

Preventative measures were also discussed. Since October 1, approximately 22,500 cubic yards of green waste have been relocated within the landfill. An ongoing effort involves covering this area with over 30,000 cubic yards of material to avert future fires. The landfill has resumed normal operations, albeit with a temporary suspension in accepting green waste.

The Waste Management Authority plans to utilize a recent $6 million grant for developing territory-wide standard operating procedures for waste management. Jaschen also paid homage to the late Daryl George, former VIFEMS director, for his significant role in the emergency response and coordination efforts.

The committee, chaired by Senator Ray Fonseca, delved into the operational challenges faced, such as the distance of the nearest fire hydrant from the landfill. St. John Deputy Fire Chief Magabe Calixte mentioned ongoing discussions with multiple stakeholders to improve firefighting infrastructure. There were also mentions of alternative water sources for firefighting, ensuring safety from contamination.

Concerns were raised by VIFEMS about outstanding payments to local water haulers, despite legislative support for their compensation. This prompted critical remarks from Senators Milton Potter and Donna Frett-Gregory, with Frett-Gregory particularly questioning the Waste Management Authority’s absence and lack of a clear strategy for green waste management.

Sen. Fonseca urged VIFEMS to formulate a comprehensive plan for the committee’s review and funding, highlighting the urgency of addressing these challenges independently of the already burdened WAPA.

Continue Reading


Uncertainty in Budget Preparedness and Vendor Payment Issues Addressed by Finance Commissioner Nominee



Kevin McCurdy, the nominee for Commissioner of the Department of Finance, expressed uncertainty about the readiness of Fiscal Year 2024 budgets for various government departments and agencies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

When Senator Donna Frett-Gregory questioned the status of Fiscal Year 2024 budgets, asking if they were “loaded and available for the departments and agencies to expend, obligate etc.,” Mr. McCurdy initially referred the question to the Office of Management and Budget. However, he later admitted, “I can’t say that with 100 percent certainty. I just don’t want to lie to you and say yes.” Senator Frett-Gregory, not satisfied with his response, emphasized the importance of this knowledge.

The hearing also delved into the Department of Finance’s ongoing challenges, especially concerning vendor payments and cash flow management. Mr. McCurdy, in a conversation with Senator Angel Bolques Jr., acknowledged the critical need to address the delays in vendor payments, saying, “It’s not lost on me…we need to find a way to better manage our cash and reduce that long lag time in getting vendor payments out.”

A significant issue identified by Mr. McCurdy was the mismatch between seasonal collections and consistent bill obligations. This challenge was highlighted in response to Senator Kenneth Gittens’s concerns about reports of undelivered checks to vendors. Mr. McCurdy suggested that these delays could be connected to the procedures for federal funds disbursement.

When Senator Carla Joseph asked about specific strategies for resolving the longstanding issue of delayed vendor payments, Mr. McCurdy mentioned ongoing discussions with banking partners to balance cash inflows and outflows, though no final solution had been confirmed.

Mr. McCurdy emphasized the need for greater adherence to policies and procedures within the Department of Finance, noting the community’s tendency to sometimes overlook established protocols.

The urgency of these budgetary and financial management issues was underscored by recent events, including layoffs at the V.I. Dept. of Tourism, attributed to the unavailability of its fiscal year 2024 budget. This situation is not isolated to the D.O.T., as several departments and agencies are reportedly still awaiting their 2024 budget allocations, three months into the new fiscal year, based on information from government officials.

Continue Reading


Court Rejects Legislative Inquiry into Judge’s Term, Sanctions Threatened for Frivolous Motions



Presiding Judge Renée Gumbs Carty, in a concise ruling, dismissed a motion from defendants in the lawsuit brought by former Senator Steven Payne against the 34th Legislature and its President, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory. The motion, filed on November 22, raised questions about a gap in Judge Gumbs Carty’s appointment—from the end of her official term on November 30, 2022, until her May 15, 2023, appointment as Senior Sitting Judge of the Superior Court.

The defense’s motion sought clarity on the judge’s authority to preside during this interim period. Additionally, a second motion requested a temporary pause in court proceedings for 10 days following the judge’s response.

Judge Gumbs Carty firmly rejected both motions on Thursday. She criticized the defense’s legal strategy, labeling the motions as frivolous and an attempt to undermine the Rules of Civil Procedure by causing unnecessary delays and distractions. The judge sternly warned that any further such motions could lead to a “show cause” hearing, where the attorneys would need to justify their actions to avoid sanctions.

With these motions set aside, the focus shifts back to the upcoming bench trial, scheduled for March 14, 2024. The trial’s timeline remains fixed, barring any new developments or filings that might prompt a reassessment.

Continue Reading