US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association
U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp had a productive week meeting with lawmakers and senior government leaders in the nation’s capital prior to the Thanksgiving break.
Addressing reporters at Government House on St. Croix, Mapp reported on meetings of the Virgin Islands delegation with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and other members of President Donald J. Trump’s Cabinet.
“I was … very happy to be able to demonstrate to the members of Congress that we take the recovery as our primary responsibility,” said the governor. “We appreciate (and) welcome the support of our federal partners,” he said, adding “… at the end of the day, the recovery for the U.S. Virgin Islands is the responsibility of Virgin Islanders and this is why my government is so much in front of the recovery process.”
In his meeting with Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, Mapp discussed the condition of the territory’s schools and hospitals. He told Mulvaney that the Virgin Islands did not want 250-bed hospitals, but needed smaller ones that were “smarter and hardened.” He said the government was not trying to rebuild or fix the nine condemned schools, as they only need six to be replaced. Mulvaney appreciated the sensible approach with which the Virgin Islands was addressing its recovery, the governor reported.
The territory’s chief executive thanked Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett for the work she has been doing to represent the needs of Virgin Islanders. “I want to commend our delegate for the work that she is continuing to do and (for) providing … leadership in Washington on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands. I think this is going to help us really advance the ball to get the resources and the support that we need to reconstruct America’s paradise here in the Caribbean.”
Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty announced that Delta Air Lines will provide daily service from Atlanta to St. Croix from Dec. 21 through Jan. 8, 2018. Afterwards, the service will operate three to four days a week through the end of March 2018. In addition, American Airlines will resume weekly Saturday flights between Charlotte and St. Croix from Dec. 16 through August 2018.
Nicholson-Doty met with members of St. Croix’s private sector on Nov. 27 to discuss the development of a post-hurricane tourism marketing strategy; on Nov. 28, she will meet with members of the private sector in the St. Thomas-St. John district. Nicholson-Doty noted that the marketing strategy is needed because “the Virgin Islands is still nice.”
Mapp told members of Congress that nine weeks after two hurricanes, 70 percent of the community did not have power. “(They) thought that was just a horrible result and that there had to be some way to fix that.” The governor said one way to do that is by mitigating and strengthening the system by putting a great deal of it underground.
Mapp reiterated his expectation that 90 percent of the territory will be energized by Christmas, adding that he will continue to work with Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Julio Rhymer to achieve that goal. “I am confident that we are actually going to be able to do that,” he said.
Mapp remains committed to improving the pace of debris removal, as this continues to be one of the territory’s most pressing elements of recovery.
On Dec, 3, the governor will host a delegation from Congress in St. Croix, who will tour the Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center to get a firsthand view of the damage.
“Keep on pushing, keep on having faith. We are going to continue to work hard to make sure that what needs to be done will be done, and will be done in a timely and efficient manner,” the governor encouraged.
Lieutenant Governor Potter Thankful for Progress Make in U.S. Virgin Islands
Speaking at Government House on St. Croix on Nov. 22, the acting governor expressed his gratitude to the people of the Virgin Islands and the territory’s partners for continuing to rally around recovery efforts as life steadily returns to normalcy.
Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Executive Director Julio Rhymer reported about 40 percent of the territory has been re-energized, as WAPA and its partners continue to work towards their goal of 90 percent restoration by Christmas. Additional linemen arrived in the territory on Nov. 22 from the U.S. mainland to support the re-energization efforts. More than 19,000 customers have been connected to date across the territory, Rhymer reported.
In other recovery news, the Department of Labor has been awarded $3 million from the U.S. Department of Labor under the Dislocated Workers Grant to assist with the cleanup and restoration of all public and private nonprofit properties.
Labor Commissioner Catherine Hendry announced that her department is currently coordinating and partnering with government and semi-autonomous agencies to place dislocated workers in temporary jobs with these agencies to assist with the cleanup and recovery efforts as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. All private nonprofit agencies should contact Arah Lockhart, the department’s director for Workforce Development, at email@example.com for information on how they may participate in the Dislocated Workers Program.
St. Croix District Deputy Superintendent Faith Dane George-Boone reported Elena Christian and John H. Woodson Junior High Schools and St. Croix Central High School were closed on Nov. 22 due to low water pressure. She added that those schools were closed on Nov. 24 while repairs were made to water lines in the area.
The Department of Public Works reported that it is in the second phase of debris collection. As of Nov. 22, 236,000 cubic yards of material had been collected on St. Croix; 22,524 cubic yards on St. Thomas; and 10,936 cubic yards had been collected from St. John. As subcontractors enter communities, the department will make every effort to publicize their schedules.
Assistant Commissioner of Human Services Evril Powell reported that a total of 27,877 residents have applied for the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP). On St. Croix, there were 13,566 applications, St. Thomas received 12,010 and St. John has registered 2,301. She said there were issues with connectivity and duplications, which slowed down the process of administering cards. Powell said 81 percent of cards were loaded and apologized to those whose cards were not loaded in time for Thanksgiving. “I know we are (a) resilient community and we will make it through,” Powell said.
The Department of Health led a seven-person delegation to visit medical evacuees in Puerto Rico. Deputy Commissioner of Health Reuben Molloy shared that the delegation comprised representatives from the Office of the Governor, centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S Public Health Service. Commissioner Michelle Davis, who led the delegation, met with members of the executive leadership and medical staff of each hospital. “We appreciate everything Puerto Rico is doing for our Virgin Islanders. The patients, their families and friends were very happy to see the delegation,” Molloy said. Davis is scheduled to make a second trip to visit patients in Puerto Rico next week. She will also connect with medical evacuees in Atlanta in December.
Residents were reminded that the Small Business Administration can provide homeowners up to $200,000 to repair and replace homes, and up to $40,000 for homeowners and renters to repair and replace personal property. The administration can also provide loans to businesses.
Public Affairs Specialist of the SBA Kamara Jackson urged Virgin Islanders to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as it is the first step in the federal disaster recovery process. She encouraged residents who are referred to the SBA to complete and return their applications as soon as possible. “If you do not return the application once you are referred, your federal disaster recovery process stops.”
FEMA Region II Federal Coordinating Officer William Vogel reported about 35,000 individuals and families have registered for assistance after the hurricanes. He said, to date, the federal government has allocated more than $193.5 million in approved funding. This includes $62 million in low interest loans, $109.5 million in public assistance grants and $22 million in grants for individuals and families, including more than $7 million for essential repairs to their homes.
White House Sends Third Supplemental Appropriations Request for Disaster Assistance to Affected States and Territories; Asks for $44 Billion for Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
The White House sent its third disaster request to Congress Nov. 17, asking for $44 billion to aid recovery in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The request includes $25.2 billion for FEMA and Small Business Administration disaster programs, $1.2 billion for emergency agricultural assistance, $1.2 billion for an emergency education fund and $12 billion for Community Development Block Grant funds for flood mitigation projects.
The White House also announced that it would be sending a fourth major supplemental disaster bill to Congress at the end of the year after additional damage assessments are completed by federal agencies.
Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp met with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney Nov. 17. Pence and Mulvaney both reaffirmed to Mapp that the Virgin Islands would receive all of the federal resources needed to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, including funds to harden its infrastructure and make it essential facilities more resilient to withstand future storms.
Mapp has submitted damage recovery estimates to OMB and to the Congress totaling $7.5 billion.
Mulvaney also affirmed that the Virgin Islands is eligible for funding for all the programs included in the supplemental request, noting that the supplemental request was not the final numbers for any of the affected states or territories. Mulvaney committed (sic) that funding for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico would also be included in the supplemental disaster bill sent to Congress at the end of the year, after FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers complete their damage assessments in both territories.
Mulvaney said that it takes the Federal Government 60 days to assemble initial recovery cost estimates and up to 90 days to verify recovery numbers. He said that the supplemental included money for disaster response and initial recovery activities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but, because Hurricane Maria was more recent and federal assessment was ongoing, the additional disaster funding for areas affected by Maria will be included in the next supplemental at the end of the year after the assessments are complete.
Mapp praised the federal commitment to the Virgin Islands and other storm ravaged areas of the United States. “As I testified earlier in the week before the House and Senate hearings on disaster recovery, there is not (sic) country on earth that responds to the needs of its citizens better in the aftermath of a natural disaster than the United States,” Mapp said. “I have been given every assurance by the highest officials of our national government that we in the Virgin Islands will be provided all of the resources we need to not only recover, but to build back stronger and better,” said the territory’s chief executive.
Mapp has submitted detailed recovery estimates totaling $7.5 billion, which are being reviewed by the relevant federal agencies. Mapp also said that the territory’s disaster assessments are continually being updated by the territory’s engineering and disaster recovery consultants.
The chief executive also said that the first tranches of the FEMA Community Disaster Loans were expected to be approved and funds released in the next few days.
During his Washington trip, Mapp met with the Congressional Leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and key members of the House and Senate appropriations committees and tax-writing committees.
Mapp also commended Delegate Stacey Plaskett for her efforts to secure Congressional support for the territory’s recovery efforts and her accompanying the governor on many of his meetings on the Hill. “The Delegate has been doing an excellent job in Washington advocating for our needs in the territory and working with my recovery team,” Mapp said.
Readout of Meeting between U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Governor Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands
“Recovering from natural disasters requires a team effort, and the Department of the Interior is absolutely committed to helping the Virgin Islands return to normal,” said Secretary Zinke. “Our Insular Affairs team has been working around the clock to provide relief to those ravaged by hurricane, and we will continue these efforts in the weeks and months to come. It was great to meet with Governor Mapp today about the work we’ve done to date, as well as what is left to be done. The Trump Administration and the government of the Virgin Islands are in close collaboration with one another to coordinate recovery efforts.”
The secretary and Mapp discussed many topics and concerns regarding hurricane relief, such as the re-opening of Virgin Islands National Park on the Island of St. John. Mapp outlined the robust recovery effort taking place, and gave first-hand accounts of how the Islands are clearing debris, restoring power and opening schools.
“Our recovery efforts with our federal partners has truly been productive. We have made great strides since being hit by two Category five hurricanes, and the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands are benefiting from our partnership,” said Mapp. “We look forward to our continued working relationship with the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies as we we (sic) build a better, stronger and more resilient United States Virgin Islands.”
Secretary Zinke stressed the importance of a continued working relationship with the Governor of the Virgin Islands to bring the Islands back to full strength.
Lieutenant Governor Potter Expresses Optimism about U.S. Virgin Islands Recovery
Recovery of the U.S. Virgin Islands following back-to-back Category 5 storms was proceeding well, reported Lt. Gov. Osbert E. Potter, who hosted a press conference at the West Indian Company in St. Thomas on Nov. 15.
“We are going to come through this all in one piece, and better and stronger than before,” assured Potter, who is currently acting as governor during Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp’s absence from the territory.
Agency representatives shared Potter’s optimism during a variety of updates.
Homeowners were reminded that WAPA will restore electrical service to homes with temporary roofs once a licensed electrician certifies in writing that the structure is deemed safe to be energized.
Potter assured residents that insurance coverage for those who paid premiums to a fraudulent agent on St. Croix will be honored by insurance companies. The matter is under investigation.
Human Services Commissioner Felecia Blyden announced that more than 13,500 of the 15,000 residents who have applied for the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) have been deemed eligible for the program.
Acting Commissioner of Public Works Nelson Petty Jr. reported the United States Army Corps of Engineers has been asked to speed up its cleanup work on St. Thomas and St John and to identify any additional resources, such as manpower and equipment, needed to facilitate progress. Residents were reminded to place debris into four piles to facilitate a smooth collection process.
Communications Director for the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority Alice Krall said her agency is working closely with the Department of Public Works, as well as the United States Environmental Protection Agency to manage the removal of debris from the territory. She reminded residents that household hazardous waste cannot be left at bin sites or alongside roads, and should be brought to a designated EPA site on St. Croix, St. John or St. Thomas. Residents who witness illegal dumping are advised to report it at 844-962-8784 .
Potter announced that the promoters of the Paradise Jam Basketball Tournament, held annually on St. Thomas, have organized a hurricane relief fundraiser for the U.S. Virgin Islands. The fundraiser and this year’s tournament, which Potter will attend, were held in November at Liberty University in Virginia.