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USVI Advances in Building Safety and Sustainability with Comprehensive Bill

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The U.S. Virgin Islands is poised for a significant advancement in construction standards, emphasizing resilience and safety, with the recent progress of an important legislative proposal.

Introduced by Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, Bill 35-0172 has successfully cleared the Committee on Disaster Recovery, Infrastructure, and Planning. This bill, a pivotal update since 2010, aims to revise Title 29, Chapter 5 of the Virgin Islands Code by integrating key aspects from the 2018 edition of the International Building Code.

Responding to the urgent need for enhanced disaster resilience, a core focus of the bill is on measures that mitigate the impact of natural calamities, a response informed by the destructive hurricanes of 2017. Key provisions include mandating hurricane shelters in specific buildings with rigorous design standards. The bill also addresses roof garden construction, advocating for reduced use of stone and loose materials, and introduces enhanced flood resistance measures in flood-prone areas. Additionally, it sets more stringent construction standards for one- and two-family homes.

An important aspect of the bill is its commitment to environmental sustainability and resilience. It stipulates that roof-mounted solar panels must be hail-resistant and requires gutters to endure wind pressure, aligning with national standards. The bill also safeguards construction materials from weather damage, especially for projects extending over six months.

The legislation extends its scope to include water supply and fire safety enhancements. It demands that cisterns used in fire sprinkler systems adhere to rigorous standards and requires that fire hydrants and water lines in public housing projects comply with fire code requirements and consensus standards. Furthermore, it brings jalousie style windows, a staple in Virgin Island architecture, under specific building code regulations.

Financial aspects are also addressed, with the bill empowering the Department of Planning and Natural Resources commissioner to set and maintain fees, replacing outdated fee schedules. This, along with defining “rural area” and “urban area,” aims for a more equitable application of provisions across the territory.

The bill’s comprehensive approach has garnered acclaim from industry leaders. Julio King, chair of the Virgin Islands Board of General Construction Contractors, lauded it as a vital stride towards industry best practices. Jean Pierre Oriol, Commissioner of DPNR, underscored its significance in fostering resilient communities.

Although there are concerns regarding DPNR’s enforcement capabilities, Commissioner Oriol highlighted the department’s proactive approach, with 16 inspectors working diligently across the territory. He emphasized the responsibility of builders to seek necessary inspections and encouraged community vigilance in ensuring compliance with DPNR’s regulations.

Senator Frett-Gregory echoed the need for community involvement, urging residents to actively monitor construction projects for official DPNR permits.

Having received unanimous support in the Committee on Disaster Recovery, Infrastructure, and Planning, Bill 35-0172 now advances to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, marking a significant step in the USVI’s journey towards safer and more sustainable building practices.

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Progressive Developments in USVI’s Maritime and Aviation Sectors Unveiled by Port Authority Board

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The Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) Board has recently announced a series of significant advancements in its maritime and aviation operations. The authority is taking bold strides to enhance and expand its services, reflecting a commitment to fostering growth and efficiency in these critical sectors.

In a move to boost the capacity and capabilities of the marine division, VIPA’s board has greenlighted negotiations to expand Priority Road Services’ lease at the Wilfred “Bomba” Allick Port and Transshipment Center on St. Thomas. This expansion will add over 100,000 square feet to their current operations, allowing for an increase in non-exclusive shipping services and providing much-needed space for hazardous materials storage.

Furthermore, VIPA has renewed its lease agreement with Aquatic Car Rentals for counter space at the Urman Victor Fredericks Marine Terminal in Red Hook, St. Thomas. This three-year lease, with an option for a two-year extension, ensures Aquatic Car Rentals can continue to offer crucial ferry ticketing services that facilitate travel between the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

The aviation sector is also seeing significant developments, with the board approving a comprehensive proposal from Stantec. This engineering consultancy will undertake airfield surveys, design, and procurement documentation for a critical FAA-mandated airfield marking project at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport. This initiative, set to commence in April, is crucial for enhancing safety and operational efficiency.

Additionally, a master service agreement with Michael Baker International will bring expert construction cost estimating and technical review services to VIPA on a task order basis. This three-year agreement, extendable for two additional one-year periods, is poised to streamline project management and ensure fiscal responsibility across VIPA’s endeavors.

In an effort to preserve the territory’s rich cultural heritage, the board has also approved funds exceeding $149,000 for the relocation of a historic shipwreck in Charlotte Amalie Harbor. This initiative, essential for the upcoming dredging project, underscores VIPA’s dedication to environmental stewardship and compliance with regulatory requirements for obtaining necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Further enhancing infrastructure, the board has authorized additional electrical and drainage improvements at the St. Croix Passenger Transportation Center and its adjoining parking garage. These upgrades are part of VIPA’s ongoing commitment to providing top-tier facilities for residents and visitors alike.

These initiatives, spearheaded by the diligent efforts of the V.I. Port Authority’s Governing Board, mark a significant leap forward in strengthening the territory’s maritime and aviation infrastructure. Through strategic investments and partnerships, VIPA is setting the stage for a future of enhanced connectivity, safety, and service excellence in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Progress in the Virgin Islands Airport Public/Private Partnership Initiative

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The Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) has made a significant stride in its ambitious Airports Public/Private Partnership (P3) Project by receiving several compliant bids in response to its call for proposals. This project targets the enhancement and modernization of the territory’s key air gateways: the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas and the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix.

VIPA announced that its dedicated internal committee is poised to embark on a detailed analysis of the proposals over the coming weeks. This meticulous review will culminate in the selection of a preferred bidder, who will then be presented to the VIPA Board of Governors for approval. During this crucial phase, VIPA has opted to maintain confidentiality, refraining from public comments.

The authority has secured the expertise of a cadre of advisory firms to support the P3 project. Frasca & Associates LLC will serve as the financial advisor, Mayer Brown LLP alongside local counsels Jennifer Jones and Trudy Fenster will offer legal guidance, The Paslay Group will act as the technical advisor, and the Public Strategy Group will manage communications.

Reflecting on a landmark achievement on April 19, 2023, VIPA’s Board of Governors identified four finalists—daa International, Vantage Airport Group Ltd., Vinci Airports, and VIports Partners—from an original group of eight candidates. These selections were made based on a set of stringent evaluation criteria, identifying firms with the capacity to spearhead airport terminal development, operations, and investment.

The firm ultimately chosen will undertake the financing of infrastructure, terminal redevelopment, and the management of airport operations, all while harnessing private capital and avoiding additional capital debt for VIPA or the Virgin Islands government. Under the stewardship of Executive Director Carlton Dowe, VIPA will maintain ownership and oversight of the airports, continuing to qualify for Federal Aviation Administration grants.

Dowe has articulated the project’s synchrony with the economic, travel, and tourism objectives of the region, anticipating the initiation of redevelopment activities between the final quarter of 2024 and early 2025.

Governor Albert Bryan has commended the forward movement of the P3 agreement process as crucial for elevating the territory’s airport facilities to continental U.S. standards. He underscored the initiative’s role in enriching the tourism experience and streamlining travel for both visitors and residents alike.

For comprehensive information about the Airports P3 Project and ongoing updates, the public is invited to visit the project’s dedicated website at www.vipaairportsp3.com.

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Historic Shipwreck to Be Relocated for Harbor Expansion in St. Thomas

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A pivotal decision emerged from the V.I. Port Authority Governing Board’s recent meeting, as Engineering Director Preston Beyer presented a proposal to allocate nearly $150,000 for the preservation of a mid-19th century shipwreck. This shipwreck, caught in the planned path of the St. Thomas Harbor dredging project, has been recognized as a significant cultural artifact by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Office.

Beyer emphasized the importance of safeguarding such cultural treasures to ensure the support of the Army Corps of Engineers for the dredging initiative. Following thorough consultations with both local and federal entities, the decision was made to reposition the shipwreck to a nearby location, safely away from the dredging activities, without diminishing its historical value.

The financial aspect of this undertaking was addressed when VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe revealed a recent conversation with Governor Albert Bryan Jr., who assured that the necessary funds, amounting to no more than $149,509, would be secured. While the specifics of the funding sources were reserved for a private executive session, this dialogue underscores the commitment to both heritage preservation and infrastructural development.

Dowe articulated a clear stance to the board: the dredging project, essential for enhancing the harbor’s capacity to welcome larger vessels and boost the local cruise industry, hinges on the successful relocation of the shipwreck. This operation reflects a balanced approach to progress, ensuring that the expansion efforts do not come at the expense of the island’s rich historical legacy.

In a significant move last November, legislators earmarked $17 million for the harbor dredging, aimed at augmenting Charlotte Amalie’s ability to accommodate the next generation of cruise ships. This project stands as a testament to the island’s dedication to economic growth while preserving its cultural heritage, a principle strongly supported by Governor Bryan’s administration.

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