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Sen. Francis Advocates $150,000 Assistance for Bottled Water Supply Amid St. Croix Lead Concerns

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In light of escalating apprehensions about water safety on St. Croix, Senate President Novelle Francis has tabled a bill aimed at offering immediate relief. The proposed legislation is designed to channel $150,000 towards furnishing bottled water to households plagued by heightened levels of copper and lead in drinking water.

“For an extended period, patrons of the drinking water network have borne the financial onus of purchasing bottled water. The inhabitants of St. Croix have grappled with discolored water and are now faced with the reality that the drinking water is deemed unsafe for use,” expressed Mr. Francis. “It’s imperative for the government to act swiftly and responsibly to both shield the affected community from additional financial distress and uphold public health.”

The alarming disclosure about the water’s quality emerged on Monday, followed by a media briefing on Tuesday. During this briefing, Governor Albert Bryan, alongside Water and Power officials, endeavored to elucidate the circumstances surrounding the contamination. Speaking to the populace, Mr. Bryan affirmed that the “non-potable” advisory was specifically designated for four communities: Colquhoun, Mon Bijou, Castle Burke, and Diamond. Nevertheless, he proffered a cautionary suggestion for others, intimating that it would be prudent for those residing outside the directly afflicted areas to also exercise caution.

Don Gregoire, the director of Water Distribution at WAPA, unveiled disconcerting data from their examinations. Out of the 66 samples initially scrutinized, 35 exhibited “exceptionally high” lead concentrations, with a single site registering an astonishing 20,000 parts per million. Furthermore, 15 locales displayed augmented copper levels.

Mr. Gregoire conjectured that aged service lines could be the contamination source. Remarkably, this revelation transpired when the Environmental Protection Agency intervened to tackle the brown discoloration issue in the water, a significant grievance for St. Croix residents.

Governor Bryan disclosed that these issues seemed to have emerged recently, as evaluations from September of the preceding year didn’t reveal any worrisome findings. While additional assessments are in progress to corroborate the initial findings, the governor alluded to the possible proclamation of a state of emergency, which would facilitate access to resources from FEMA and other federal government segments. However, he exhibited hesitancy to hasten such a decision without a more precise grasp of the problem’s extent.

Addressing the operational challenges encountered, the governor noted that the lack of local laboratories posed a considerable hurdle. Although laboratories in Puerto Rico have been earmarked for testing, he did acknowledge a bright spot: a device at the Department of Health capable of detecting lead in water.

Prioritizing safety, Governor Bryan articulated his resolve to persist with water testing until the residents’ safety is ascertained, even suggesting that examinations might extend until the year’s end.

In the interim, steps have been initiated to furnish several schools with bottled and bulk water. Governor Bryan also issued a fervent appeal to water vendors, imploring them to refrain from escalating prices. He emphatically cautioned against exploitation, pledging to counter any attempts to capitalize on this crisis.

In his closing statement, Sen. Francis, the proponent of the bill to channel $150,000 for bottled water supply to affected households, underscored the exigency of the predicament, “It’s crucial that the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority persist with all requisite actions to not merely reinstate the integrity of the drinking water system but also rejuvenate public trust.”

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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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