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St. Thomas Humane Society Adjusts to Economic Challenges with Strategic Staff Changes

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The Humane Society of St. Thomas (HSST) is navigating through tough economic waters by making difficult, yet necessary adjustments to its workforce. This strategic move comes after a detailed financial analysis revealed that the shelter must reduce its workforce to continue its mission.

Randolph Knight, the President of HSST, shared that this decision was not made lightly. A comprehensive review of the shelter’s finances made it clear that to sustain the care for the increasing number of animals and offset a downturn in donations, staffing changes were inevitable.

The society, a cornerstone in the St. Thomas community for animal welfare, has faced challenges like many non-profits, balancing the care of more animals with fewer resources. The decision to reduce staff is aimed at maintaining the shelter’s operations and ensuring the animals receive the care they need.

Knight expressed deep regret for the impact of these layoffs on the dedicated employees and their families, acknowledging their commitment and contributions. He reassured that those affected would be supported through this transition, including receiving information about COBRA for health insurance continuation.

Despite these changes, Knight remains optimistic about the future of HSST. The organization is actively seeking new funding sources and is committed to its mission of caring for animals in need. He highlighted the resilience of the remaining team members and volunteers, whose dedication ensures the shelter’s activities will go on.

Knight also encouraged open dialogue, offering contact details for those with questions or concerns about the staffing adjustments.

As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, the Humane Society of St. Thomas continues to be a vital part of the community, demonstrating unwavering dedication to animal welfare even in the face of economic adversity.

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Economy

WAPA’s Challenges: Delays and Costs in Renewable Energy and AMI System Failures

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The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) is facing critical scrutiny for its handling of key projects aimed at modernizing the territory’s energy infrastructure. During a recent Public Services Commission meeting, significant concerns were raised about the protracted delays in completing essential studies for solar and wind energy projects, as well as the problematic performance of the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system.

Commissioner David Hughes highlighted the inefficiency with which WAPA has approached the integration of renewable energy sources into the grid. Despite engaging consultants for six years, the completion of a crucial interconnection study has been delayed for over a year. Hughes pointed out the financial impact of these delays, costing ratepayers around $3 million every month, underscoring the urgency for WAPA to prioritize renewable energy integration to alleviate costs for customers.

WAPA Executive Director Andrew Smith committed to concluding the study for the solar site at Petronella by late February but did not provide timelines for other projects. This lack of coordination and progress drew criticism from Commissioner Raymond Williams, who emphasized the high costs borne by ratepayers due to inefficient generation and the slow pace of transitioning to a renewable energy portfolio.

Furthermore, discussions surfaced regarding a lease necessary for a wind power project, revealing a staggering $9 million wasted during the wait, as highlighted by Hughes. WAPA’s legal team is actively finalizing the lease, aiming to expedite the process.

The AMI system, intended to enhance billing accuracy and grid reliability, has unfortunately not lived up to expectations, with over 60% of meters failing to meet industry standards. Factors such as hurricane damage and the challenging climate of the Virgin Islands have been cited for the reduced lifespan of these meters, leading to costly replacements. The Commissioners expressed frustration over the lack of tangible benefits to customers from this multi-million dollar investment and questioned WAPA’s maintenance capabilities.

In response, Smith suggested transitioning to an “AMI as a service” model to offload the responsibility of meter maintenance and replacement to the service provider, acknowledging WAPA’s current limitations in managing the system’s upkeep.

The Public Services Commission is now contemplating an investigation and the establishment of performance standards to ensure WAPA addresses these issues promptly, emphasizing the importance of reliable and cost-effective energy solutions for the territory’s ratepayers.

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Economy

Legislative Spotlight on Water Island Development and St. Thomas Expansion

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In a pivotal session branded as “economic development day” by Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, the 35th Legislature’s Committee of the Whole convened to deliberate on a sequence of rezoning proposals, bolstered by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and Coastal Zone Management’s advocacy.

Leading the discussions was Bill 35-0212, a proposal aimed at enhancing Honeymoon Beach on Water Island through the establishment of a 5-foot by 30-foot floating dock, linked by a 4-foot by 24-foot wooden pathway. Marlon Hibbert, the Division of Coastal Zone Management’s director, reassured legislators of the project’s negligible environmental footprint, emphasizing the dock’s design for easy removal under severe weather conditions.

Representing Beach Life LLC, Lisa Bertrand highlighted the dock’s role in streamlining access to Water Island, offering a secure boarding point for passengers and mitigating ecological strain from habitual anchoring along the coast. Bertrand underlined the provision of free access to the dock for boaters, aligning with the project’s commitment to environmental and community stewardship.

Another focal point was BR 24-0973, targeting a zoning variance for Estate Contant plots in St. Thomas, historically used by Discount Car Rentals for additional parking. Roosevelt David, a consultant and ex-legislator, recounted the business’s zoning compliance efforts, following recent advisories. Despite local opposition, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources deemed a use variance preferable to maintain neighborhood harmony, with David advocating for the property’s potential as a commercial asset.

Bill 35-0235 emerged as another significant proposal, seeking to transition a parcel in Estate Donoe, St. Thomas, from residential to scattered business zoning. This ambitious project, spearheaded by AR Legacy LLC, envisions a phased development of a mixed-use community, blending commercial and residential spaces. The initial phase focuses on commercial infrastructure, with residential development paced by market demand, projecting an 8-10 year completion timeline and a $50 million investment.

Senator Marvin Blyden expressed enthusiasm over AR Legacy LLC’s plans for approximately 100 family homes, including single-family and townhouse options. This development aims to elevate living standards in the Virgin Islands, with progress already underway on adjacent land, hinting at future transformation into a gated community.

The Legislature is poised to cast their votes on these transformative proposals in the upcoming session, marking a significant stride towards sustainable development and economic revitalization in the Virgin Islands.

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Economy

Governor Bryan Advocates for a Revitalized Virgin Islands, Acknowledges Challenges in Inspiring Message

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In a recent series of events, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. of the Virgin Islands has passionately encouraged members of the Virgin Islands diaspora to consider returning home, contributing to a vision of a rejuvenated and thriving territory. This call to action is part of a larger initiative aimed at harnessing the talent and skills of Virgin Islanders worldwide for the territory’s ongoing development and post-hurricane rebuilding efforts.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new WIC building at the Department of Health’s Knud Hansen Complex, Governor Bryan spoke candidly about the challenges the Virgin Islands face in rebuilding efforts post-hurricane, particularly in human resources. “We had a mass migration after the storms, leading to a talent shortfall,” he stated. His message was clear: the contribution of the diaspora is not just valued but essential. “Your presence and participation could significantly ease our recovery efforts,” he emphasized, directly addressing Virgin Islanders living abroad.

Following Governor Bryan’s speech, the importance of this initiative was echoed in a Senate hearing by Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., senior entrepreneurship manager at UVI RT Park. He outlined the ongoing “Come Home USVI” campaign, highlighting its success in fostering dialogue with the diaspora through networking events in major cities. These discussions have been instrumental in providing a realistic view of the relocation process, addressing key concerns such as affordable housing and energy costs.

Acknowledging the challenges like high energy costs and the need for improved healthcare and education infrastructure, Governor Bryan and his team are focused on sustainable solutions. These efforts demonstrate the administration’s commitment to not only attract returning residents but also to enhance the quality of life for all Virgin Islanders.

The governor’s vision extends beyond immediate rebuilding efforts. He envisions fostering an environment that encourages the growth of industries requiring specialized skills, thus attracting talent and boosting the economy. This forward-thinking approach is pivotal for the long-term prosperity of the Virgin Islands.

In conclusion, despite the hurdles, Governor Bryan’s message remains one of optimism and determination. His leadership in the face of adversity reflects a deep commitment to the Virgin Islands, highlighting an unwavering resolve to overcome challenges and build a brighter future for the territory.

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