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Loud Boom at Randolph Harley Power Plant Leads to Safety Precautions

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The Randolph Harley Power Plant in St. Thomas, USVI. Photo by V.I. Consortium, Ernice Gilbert.

A startling boom at the Randolph Harley Power Plant in St. Thomas prompted an evacuation of the V.I. Water and Power Authority (WAPA) personnel on Thursday. Contrary to initial fears of an explosion, the noise was identified as a safety feature activation—a rupture disk—intended to prevent damage to critical systems, according to WAPA spokesperson Shanell Petersen.

This safety mechanism, which triggered the evacuation, responds automatically when it detects potential threats to the plant’s integrity. The activation caused significant concern, initially described as an explosion by a WAPA official. In response, the V.I. Fire and Emergency Services dispatched teams, and the Virgin Islands Police Department secured the plant’s perimeter.

Petersen explained the evacuation was a necessary precaution due to the intensity of the noise. She clarified that such measures ensure the safety of the staff, highlighting that the rupture disk’s role is a proactive safety response.

The event occurs amid ongoing challenges for WAPA in maintaining consistent power in the St. Thomas-St. John District. Following a district-wide outage on Wednesday, the region experienced similar power interruptions again today. Petersen noted that the rupture disk incident does not directly relate to the generation of power but is a separate safety measure.

The power issues have had widespread repercussions. The V.I. Department of Education had to cancel classes in the district for the second consecutive day. “Due to the ongoing power outage affecting the St. Thomas-St. John District, all schools within the district will remain closed today, Thursday, May 9, 2024,” announced the Department. “We apologize for any inconvenience and ask the public to follow official updates for further information on school operations.”

Additionally, the V.I. Superior Court announced closures due to a water service interruption, and the V.I. Economic Development Authority reported disruptions to its telephone services.

In related community impacts, the Lockhart K-8 Music Department has postponed its Spring Concert scheduled for today due to the unstable power supply, affecting not only educational institutions but also community events across the island.

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WAPA

Vitema Offices on St. Thomas Closed Due to WAPA Potable Water Disruption

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U.S. Virgin Islands – The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) Director is advising the public that the St. Thomas offices are closed effective immediately due to a WAPA potable water disruption.

According to WAPA’s statement, the problem is expected to be fixed later this evening and, as such, VITEMA’s St. Thomas office will reopen as usual tomorrow, Wednesday, May 15, 2024 for normal operations, 8am-5pm.

The St. Thomas 911 operations remain functioning as usual.

 

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WAPA

PSC Commissioner Calls for Hiring of Hearing Examiner Amid Concerns Over Water Safety in St. Croix

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During a recent meeting with representatives from the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), Public Services Commission (PSC) member David Hughes expressed significant concerns about the current state of water testing in St. Croix, following last year’s alarming discovery of elevated levels of lead and copper. Hughes pressed for immediate action, questioning the delay in hiring a hearing examiner—a role outlined on the PSC’s website as crucial for overseeing utility compliance with regulations.

Hughes emphasized that the role of the hearing examiner is to work closely with utilities to ensure they meet the commission’s standards, particularly in regular testing to safeguard public health. “The PSC should be actively ensuring that WAPA maintains a consistent testing program that we can trust on behalf of consumers,” he stated.

The dialogue grew tense when Hughes criticized the commission’s efforts, responding to PSC Executive Director Sandra Setorie’s assurances that progress was being made with, “We as a Commission are not fulfilling our obligations.” He pointed to WAPA’s reactive measures—conducting 65 water tests in response to complaints about water discoloration—as insufficient and indicative of a need for a robust, ongoing testing program.

WAPA’s Director of Water Distribution for St. Croix, Don Gregoire, defended their practices, stating that the water is tested daily in their own laboratory, following EPA guidelines which now mandate biannual testing. However, Hughes countered that without full transparency and understanding of the testing procedures, the commission could not confidently endorse the program.

The urgency for better oversight was further highlighted by a lawsuit alleging serious deficiencies at the St. Croix laboratory, including outdated certifications and improper sample collection. These revelations support Hughes’s argument for enhanced oversight to ensure WAPA’s accountability and transparency.

Hughes also pointed out a broader issue of information deficit and lack of transparency from WAPA, underscoring the PSC’s duty to keep the public informed. “We’re not doing our job in regulatory oversight,” he lamented.

In a positive note, WAPA Chief Operating Officer for Water, Noel Hodge, announced a substantial FEMA grant aimed at overhauling St. Croix’s water infrastructure over the next two decades, with a detailed capital improvement plan underway and initial construction expected to start within three years.

Hughes’s call for the appointment of a hearing examiner underscores a critical need for PSC to enhance its regulatory role and ensure that such public health emergencies do not recur, reflecting a commitment to uphold safety and transparency in public utilities.

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Nearly All Impacted by WAPA Billing Error Receive Refunds

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The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has resolved a billing error that inadvertently affected around 3,000 customers due to a glitch during system testing. The mishap occurred on Monday evening when, during a routine trial in their billing system’s test environment, unintended charges were mistakenly applied to customer accounts.

WAPA acted promptly to address the error, successfully reversing the incorrect charges for all affected accounts except two. Customers who were impacted should see a reversal transaction on their account statements, which will display as a negative amount reflecting the refund.

The utility also clarified that for those customers whose charges are still showing as pending on their bank statements, these will automatically be removed without any action needed from the customer. WAPA stressed that these pending charges will simply disappear, and the customer’s balance will adjust accordingly.

WAPA expressed regret over the confusion and inconvenience caused by the glitch. They are currently making efforts to ensure all remaining issues are swiftly corrected to prevent future occurrences.

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