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Public Schools in the USVI to Close Amid Forecasted Severe Weather

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In response to anticipated severe weather conditions, including significant rainfall, robust winds, and reduced visibility, the Virgin Islands Department of Education has declared a territory-wide closure of all public schools for Wednesday, February 7. This precautionary measure aims to safeguard students, faculty, and staff against the adverse weather expected to affect both the USVI and Puerto Rico.

The Department’s priority remains the safety of its students. Parents and guardians are strongly advised to retain their children at home during this weather event. Similarly, public school teachers and staff are directed not to attend their usual places of work.

Notwithstanding the general closure, the Department mandates that key essential personnel, such as school principals, assistant principals, and maintenance staff, report to their respective schools at 8:00 am for a thorough assessment of the campuses in light of the impending weather conditions.

Furthermore, staff at the district and state offices of the Department of Education are expected to fulfill their duties as normal, ensuring the continuity of critical operations.

The public is urged to stay vigilant for any updates concerning the operational status of schools on Thursday, February 8th, by following official departmental communications.

Expressing appreciation for the community’s support and understanding, the Department of Education highlights the importance of collective efforts in maintaining the safety and well-being of the entire public school community during such challenging times.

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USVI Community Pulse

Bill Reforming V.I. Real Estate Commission Advances with Strong Support

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In a significant move to enhance regulations in the Virgin Islands’ real estate sector, Senator Novelle Francis Jr. has introduced Bill 35-0117, aimed at reforming the territory’s Real Estate Commission. This follows closely on the heels of his earlier successful introduction of Bill 35-0193, which sought to regulate the local real estate industry further.

Bill 35-0117 proposes amendments to Title 27, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 15, Sections 421a and 422. These amendments address the qualifications, term limits, and duties of the Real Estate Commission members. Key among the proposed changes is the addition of a licensed property manager to the Commission, a move Senator Francis highlighted while seeking support from the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

If passed, the bill will mandate geographic representation on the Commission, with three members residing on St. Croix, three on St. Thomas, and one on St. John. Additionally, it sets term limits, restricting members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. The bill also allows for members to receive per diem expenses and empowers the Commission to appoint a secretary and a treasurer.

The proposed legislation quickly garnered support during its initial committee review on Thursday. Laurent Alfred, the current chair of the Real Estate Commission, and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) both endorsed the bill. Horace Graham, DLCA assistant commissioner, praised the bill as a “progressive step forward for this industry and our community.”

A noteworthy provision in the bill requires that no more than four of the seven Commission members hold a Virgin Islands real estate broker, sales associate, or property management license. According to Mr. Graham, this ensures that decisions are informed by substantial industry expertise while allowing the Commission to effectively represent various stakeholder interests, including real estate personnel, property owners, and prospective buyers.

Mr. Graham emphasized the bill’s aim for “equitable geographic representation,” which he believes will address unique real estate issues across the Virgin Islands. He also noted that term limits would promote fresh ideas and prevent stagnation, fostering an environment of transparency, accountability, and responsiveness.

The Real Estate Commission fully supports the proposed changes, with Mr. Alfred testifying that term limits would ensure a healthy turnover in Commission membership.

Committee members echoed the support from invited testifiers. Senator Milton Potter described the bill’s provisions as “prudent upgrades” for the real estate industry. Senator Marise James, experienced in real estate law, saw no drawbacks and encouraged Senator Francis to address real estate fraud in future legislation. Senator Diane Capehart agreed, stating that the legislation offers transparency and parity.

The bill will now proceed to an upcoming legislative session, where it will be voted on by all fifteen senators.

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USVI Diplomatic Pioneer Terence Todman Honored with Conference Room in Buenos Aires

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The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has dedicated the Terence A. Todman Conference Room to honor the distinguished USVI-born diplomat. The unveiling on Wednesday celebrated Mr. Todman’s significant contributions and showcased his remarkable career.

“If you walk through that room, you’re going to learn a lot more about his career and the courage that one person took to change the world,” stated Marc Stanley, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, during the ceremony.

Terence Todman, born in 1926 on St. Thomas, served as a U.S. ambassador to six countries: Chad, Guinea, Costa Rica, Spain, Denmark, and Argentina. He retired in 2014 and passed away later that year. The son of a maid and a grocery store clerk, Mr. Todman broke numerous barriers in his ascent to a high-ranking diplomat, mastering seven languages along the way. The conference room, named “A Life Less Ordinary,” highlights these achievements.

“The courage it took to be a Black ambassador for the United States in 1969, the courage it took to integrate a lunchroom in Virginia in the 60s—it took a lot,” Ambassador Stanley remarked, noting that Mr. Todman was one of only two Black Americans in the State Department at the time.

Mr. Todman’s career was marked by his challenge to the Virginia segregation law, which mandated separate eating areas for Black diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute. His activism was a significant part of his legacy, including becoming the first Black ambassador to a Spanish-speaking country when appointed to Costa Rica in 1974. He also served as the ambassador to Argentina from 1989 to 1993.

The conference room exhibit includes visual timelines of Mr. Todman’s accomplishments and multilingual panels, offering a comprehensive look at his pioneering career. “All of these things tell this one giant story,” said Joseph Van Jemming, the senior chair of the Office of Cultural Heritage who contributed to the exhibit’s creation.

A central display in the room features a black outline of Ambassador Todman amidst white outlined diplomats, symbolizing his frequent position as the only Black individual in a room. “The imagery is powerful and pulls the room together in a really interesting way,” Mr. Van Jemming noted.

Stacey Williams, a mentee of Mr. Todman and current chief of staff in the Bureau of Budget and Planning for the State Department, reflected on the significance of the honorary conference room. He posed the question many ponder: “Will anyone remember my name?” With Mr. Todman’s name now honored in various locations, including the State Department cafeteria in Washington, DC, and a road leading to the Cyril E. King Airport, Mr. Williams believes his mentor’s legacy will endure indefinitely.

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Waste-to-Energy Initiative Aims to Transform St. John’s Environmental Landscape

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During the Public Services Commission’s (PSC) monthly meeting on Tuesday, Advanced Sustainable Technologies Limited (AST Cleantech) reintroduced its proposal to build a waste-to-energy plant on St. John. The project, long touted by AST, aims to generate nearly one megawatt of electricity while managing the island’s waste. However, the venture hinges on agreements with the V.I. Waste Management Authority (VIWMA) and the V.I. Water and Power Authority (WAPA).

AST Group CEO Dan Levin reported that the final design plans are nearing completion, with financial backing secured from a U.S. bank for the entire project. Engineering partners and land in Florida for fabrication and testing have also been arranged. “We expect to start construction and fabrication in the coming months,” Levin stated, projecting the unit to be operational in Florida within 10 months, followed by two months of testing. The unit is anticipated to be installed at St. John’s transfer station within 12 to 13 months, with a startup planned by the end of 2025. The installation cost is estimated at $10 million.

In response to PSC Commissioner David Hughes’ inquiry, Levin assured that the waste-to-energy process produces no residual waste, yielding only electricity and an inorganic crystal byproduct. The gases from waste decomposition are cleaned and used in gas turbines, producing emissions significantly lower than natural gas. The closed system design mitigates odor and noise, with current operations in Seattle, Washington, the Czech Republic, and Germany meeting stringent environmental standards.

Commissioner Hughes highlighted the need for AST to coordinate with VIWMA and WAPA, despite their current challenges. Levin mentioned that a draft power purchase agreement with WAPA is expected to be finalized soon, although the agreement with VIWMA, which involves no tipping fees, remains pending. He sought the PSC’s assistance in expediting this process.

Hughes encouraged AST to work closely with the PSC’s general counsel and executive director on agreements with regulated utilities to ensure seamless progress. He emphasized the importance of being prepared to fully agree when the project moves forward. Levin projected that the plant’s power production capacity could reach about 10 gigawatts annually.

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