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Plaskett Casts Doubts on WAPA’s Hopes for Vitol Debt Federal Reimbursement

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In a recent media briefing labeled “Pen & Pad,” Stacey Plaskett, the USVI’s Delegate to Congress, engaged with local reporters on various matters. A significant point of discussion revolved around the delay in the repayment of the $100 million that the Water and Power Authority (WAPA) owes to energy trader Vitol, pursuant to a settlement agreement.

Plaskett’s initial remarks focused on the original 2013 deal between WAPA and Vitol. “From a legal standpoint, the nature of that initial agreement is highly unsettling,” she stated. She pinpointed the interest rate in the original agreement as alarmingly high. Moreover, she highlighted the appended change orders, which ballooned the concluding bill, making it more than twice the preliminary budget estimate for the project.

Addressing the subsequent settlement designed to end the dispute between WAPA and Vitol over the debt amount, Plaskett clarified her non-participation in any negotiation stages. Nevertheless, she expressed her reservations about Vitol’s role in the settlement, indicating that the energy trader didn’t seem to have made any considerable concessions. “Negotiations should lead to both parties enduring some degree of discomfort. But it appears Vitol hasn’t been impacted by any strains in working out this repayment plan,” she remarked.

Responding to queries about the decision to defer the payment from August to December, Plaskett acknowledged her limited knowledge of the internal discussions. However, her tone remained cautiously skeptical.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s proposal to the 35th Legislature, urging approval of a credit line to facilitate the $145 million payment to Vitol, came with assurances. The administration expressed hopes that the funds would be replenished to the territory through a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, specifically from the Community Development Block Grant aiding the territory’s post-hurricane recovery.

Yet, Plaskett voiced her reservations. “I seriously doubt the feasibility of tapping into CDBG resources for this purpose,” she conveyed. She further indicated that the anticipated authorization for such usage has not been obtained.

Elaborating on her skepticism, Delegate Plaskett questioned the likelihood of HUD’s secretary consenting to the use of disaster relief funds for settling what she termed as “an ill-conceived debt.” While she admitted being potentially out of the loop regarding specific details, Plaskett didn’t discount the possibility of Governor Bryan having additional information. “It’s conceivable that the Governor has insights I’m not acquainted with. But, based on my dialogue with HUD’s decision-makers, this seems like a long shot,” she concluded.

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$12.5 Million Federal Grant Boosts Climate Resilience at Cyril E. King Airport in the USVI

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The Cyril E. King International Airport in St. Thomas has been earmarked for significant infrastructure upgrades, thanks to a generous $12.5 million grant from the Biden administration. This financial boost is directed at augmenting the airport’s resilience in the face of the escalating threats posed by climate change.

Announced on Thursday, this grant is a segment of a broader federal initiative distributing nearly $830 million across 80 projects nationwide. These projects are strategically chosen to reinforce the transportation infrastructure against the adverse effects of extreme weather conditions, including but not limited to flooding, sea-level rise, and heatwaves, which are becoming more frequent and severe due to the climate crisis.

This initiative springs from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, utilizing funds allocated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law under the PROTECT Discretionary Grant Program.

Secretary Pete Buttigieg, along with FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt, emphasized the critical nature of these investments. The duo pointed out the growing threats that climate change poses to the nation’s transportation networks. “America’s transportation infrastructure is increasingly compromised by extreme weather events, ranging from wildfires in California that disrupt freight rail lines to flooding subways in New York. These events not only impede mobility but also threaten economic stability by disrupting supply chains,” Buttigieg remarked.

The project earmarked for the Virgin Islands will concentrate on restoring around 460 feet of shoreline at the airport. This initiative aims to curb flooding and combat shoreline erosion, ensuring the continued operation of both the airport and the adjacent petroleum facility that serves as a vital aviation fuel source during emergencies.

This funding initiative is part of the Biden Administration’s extensive efforts to bolster climate resilience. Over $50 billion has been earmarked for various climate resilience and adaptation projects through legislative measures, showcasing a committed stride towards protecting the nation’s infrastructure from climate-induced challenges and ensuring uninterrupted economic growth.

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Delegate Plaskett Applauds Congressional Approval of Funding Bill, Highlighting Benefits for U.S. Virgin Islands

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Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett has lauded the enactment of the Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bill, marking a significant milestone with its presidential endorsement. This legislative achievement promises substantial benefits for the U.S. Virgin Islands through a comprehensive funding initiative celebrated for its cross-party backing in both Congressional chambers.

Characterized by its extensive support for economic growth, public safety enhancements, and family assistance nationwide—and by extension, in the Virgin Islands—the bill embodies a commitment to vital societal sectors. According to Congresswoman Plaskett, the legislation channels funds into pivotal areas such as educational initiatives, job training, and accessible, high-quality childcare. “This funding package champions essential services and programs that underpin education, workforce development, and childcare affordability,” Plaskett remarked.

The bill earmarks significant funding across various domains: $1.1 billion is allocated to the Small Business Administration to aid underserved business owners, $20.3 billion is designated for comprehensive disaster recovery efforts, and additional funds are directed towards combating the opioid crisis, specifically fentanyl. It also encompasses contributions towards Rural Health Programs, Career and Technical Education (CTE) State Grants, School-Based Mental Health Services, support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, among other initiatives.

Highlighting the bill’s transformative investments, Ms. Plaskett pointed out the strategic funding for education, healthcare, and climate change mitigation efforts that are critical to the Virgin Islands’ prosperity. “The legislative package makes unprecedented allocations towards Head Start, childcare, educational enrichment, workforce training, and placement programs,” she detailed. The bill also fortifies national defense, underscores the U.S.’s dedication to climate change countermeasures and global health improvement, and boosts funding for border security and cyber-defense.

Congresswoman Plaskett views the bill’s passage as a triumph for House Democrats, who she notes, “successfully protected community investments while countering several detrimental proposals by House Republicans, such as cuts to education and climate change initiatives.”

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Over $10 Million Allocated to USVI through Community Projects by Delegate Plaskett

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In a significant advancement for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the recent approval of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2024 by the House of Representatives heralds a substantial financial boost for local initiatives, thanks to the efforts of Delegate Stacey Plaskett. Plaskett announced the inclusion of twelve Community Project Funding Requests from her office in the federal bill, highlighting her commitment to enhancing education, healthcare, community development, and economic opportunities for the territory’s vulnerable populations.

Upon the anticipated Senate approval and President Joe Biden’s signature, the legislation will channel more than $10 million into the Virgin Islands for various critical community projects. Beneficiaries include notable entities such as the St. Croix Foundation, My Brother’s Workshop, and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, each tasked with implementing projects that aim to foster community well-being and economic resilience.

Deanna James, Executive Director of the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development, praised the funding as a testament to the impact of civic-public partnerships in catalyzing significant social change in underserved areas. The Foundation is set to receive $1 million to rejuvenate affordable housing and commercial spaces in Christiansted, underscoring the initiative’s potential to transform local communities.

Similarly, St. Croix Farmers in Action will utilize their $1 million allocation to refurbish essential water infrastructure at the Bethlehem Sugar Factory site, enhancing agricultural resilience against drought conditions. Kareem Edwards, a board member, emphasized the project’s critical importance to St. Croix’s agricultural sector.

The funding extends to a diverse array of projects across the U.S. Virgin Islands:

  • Lord God of Sabaoth Evangelical Lutheran Church is allocated $1,666,279 to increase affordable housing and activate essential services for Christiansted’s disadvantaged populations.
  • My Brother’s Workshop receives $1,000,000 for constructing a facility that will bolster education and workforce development.
  • The Virgin Islands Architecture Center for Built Heritage and Crafts is awarded $850,000 to transform a historical site into an educational center for traditional building crafts.
  • Caribbean Centers for Boys & Girls of the Virgin Islands gets $1,000,000 for the rehabilitation of youth centers damaged by hurricanes.
  • The Department of Planning and Natural Resources is allocated $510,000 for renovations and solar lighting at the Gustave Quetel Fish Market.
  • World Ocean School will use $850,000 for the educational refurbishment of the Roseway, a National Historic Landmark.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers receives funding for projects improving navigation in Christiansted and Charlotte Amalie Harbors.
  • Coral World Ocean and Reef Initiative is granted $438,000 to study and mitigate the impacts of sargassum on marine life.
  • An additional $963,000 goes to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources for addressing harmful sargassum algal blooms.

This allocation underscores a forward-thinking approach to enhancing the U.S. Virgin Islands’ resilience and sustainability, marking a pivotal moment for community development in the territory.

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