US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association
Repairing hurricane damaged facilities, accessing federal assistance, filling critical job vacancies and fully restoring government services were among the topics addressed when more than 40 members of the Mapp/Potter Administration’s Cabinet met on St. Croix Dec. 14.
Commissioners, directors and other agency heads each reported on the latest status of their infrastructure, work force and ability to carry out their duties.
Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp said it was important that each agency move forward in assuring that damage assessments were finalized and that requests were made for modular buildings, critical staffing and other needs.
“We need to submit paperwork to the federal government so we can start drawing on those recovery dollars,” the governor said. “Each of you has to focus on your lane, focus on your responsibilities. You have to look at a wider view to ensure you can provide the services that each department and agency is required to deliver to the community. FEMA has a critical role to play in the support system of this government now, but we must clearly outline our needs.”
The federal government will assist in funding new government jobs required as a result of the storm, the governor explained. For example, since more people are now eligible for unemployment benefits, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help pay the salaries of the additional personnel required by the Department of Labor to process these new claims.
Mapp asked Cabinet members to work with the Division of Personnel to ensure that available positions, especially those critical vacancies, are advertised and filled.
Agency heads reported that the repair of phone service to government offices has lagged behind the restoration of power.
“We must reestablish communication to government agencies,” Mapp said. “We cannot remain disconnected from the community.”
The governor has requested that all offices without landlines be set up to utilize Voice over Internet Protocol phone service. The Bureau of Information Technology and the Virgin Islands Next Generation Network have already laid the groundwork for internet phone service implementation. BIT Director Angelo Riddick reported at the meeting that the government could eventually save as much as 40 percent on the cost of phone service if all agencies converted to VoIP technology.
Retiring member of the administration’s financial team Office of Management & Budget Director Nellon Bowry encouraged agency heads to remember the people behind the numbers as they make assessments and work towards the territory’s recovery.
“I tell my staff to always remember that what we do affects real people in real ways – we are not just crunching numbers,” Bowry said.
Cabinet members also received a brief presentation from the disaster response consultants working with the Virgin Islands Government. Witt O’Brien’s, AECOM and Ernst & Young are assisting agencies in completing detailed assessments of the government’s losses, working with insurance adjusters and organizing joint site visits with FEMA to finalize damage and rebuild reports.
The governor urged Cabinet members to think of government facilities as their personal property and to push for maximum assistance from FEMA and the territory’s insurance companies.
“I want every agency head to understand the importance of this process,” the governor said. “These are folks that know the Stafford Act backwards and forwards and will help us ensure we are not leaving any money on the table.”
Mapp and Lt. Gov. Osbert E. Potter thanked the commissioners, directors and senior staff members present, many of whom worked tirelessly during and in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“We also must thank those government employees who really went the extra mile after the storms,” the governor said.
USVI Department of Agriculture Updates Contact Information
U.S. Virgin Islands Commissioner of Agriculture Carlos Robles has informed the Virgin Islands community that the Department of Agriculture’s telephone systems were impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. As a result, the department’s contact information has changed, and its offices can now be reached at the following phone numbers: 340-423-9021 (St. Thomas); 340-423-9022 (St. John); and 340-423-9023 (St. Croix).
The three main offices in the territory are open for business and staff are available to answer any questions.
Governor Mapp Takes Action on Multiple Legislative Measures
Saying senators have not offered an alternative to handle the massive amount of debris created by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, on Dec. 14 Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp vetoed legislation that would ban any controlled burning by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The governor has said that all options must remain on the table in order to prevent the people of the Virgin Islands from being responsible for the cost of debris disposal.
“This is a herculean task and the legislature has yet to offer a single viable plan on how we should effectively deal with this issue,” the governor wrote in a letter to Senate President Myron D. Jackson outlining his action on the bills recently approved by the body.
The Joint Debris Task Force, made up of federal and local officials, has put forth a plan now underway to chip and compost the majority of trees and branches felled during the storm, to preserve valuable hardwoods such as mahogany and to allow for burning up to 35 percent of the debris.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for all debris removal and disposal until March 20. The Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands will be responsible for the expense of all debris not disposed of by that date. It is estimated that more than 700,000 cubic yards of vegetative waste was created as a result of September’s hurricanes.
“Without some incineration, we are unlikely to meet the deadline,” the governor said. “I am attempting to make a reasoned decision and remain very concerned about the environment and about the lives and health of the people of the Virgin Islands.”
Mapp also approved the Community Disaster Loan bill in his letter to Jackson, but noted that some of the amendments to the bill, including an effort to direct a portion of all loan proceeds to themselves, are neither appropriate nor legally permissible. Mapp line item vetoed two sections of the bill forwarded to him by the 32nd Legislature.
“The loan is not a new ‘wad’ of cash to be appropriated to others as if they were forgotten at a banquet,” Mapp wrote. “Yes, it will cover some costs in our fiscal year 2018 budget, but limited to authorized use of the loan proceeds as provided for in federal law. We have assured the federal government that we recognize that a number of the legislature’s amendments run contrary to authorized uses of the CDL proceeds and I’m telling you we will not provide for them.”
In addition, the governor approved one of two proposed horse racing bills, specifically Bill No. 32-0092, which allows for the regulation of the horse racing industry by a single Horse Racing Commission.
“My action will bring efficiency and confidence to the oversight and governance of an industry that is an integral part of the culture of the Virgin Islands. Additionally, professional horse racing will bring positive growth of the economy by bringing jobs and tourism to both islands thus benefitting the territory as a whole,” Mapp wrote.
A landmark agreement was ratified last year with local casino operator VIGL to revitalize the territory’s horse racing industry; however, amendments to the enabling legislation required approval by senators in order for the project to move forward. The agreement, which stands to create dozens of new jobs and make the Virgin Islands the region’s premier destination for horse racing, calls for nearly $30 million in private capital to build modern state-of-the-art racetracks and related facilities on both St. Thomas and St. Croix.
In November, the governor made a fourth formal request to senators to move the necessary legislation, in the form of Bill No. 32-0092 and Bill No. 32-0093, which prohibits doping of horses and consolidates the territory’s two horse racing commissions into one body. Bill No. 32-0093 remains in the hands of the legislature.
“While recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria remains our focus, it’s essential we continue to look ahead towards normalcy and developing our economy. We await formal receipt of the legislation; however, I am hopeful the racetrack redevelopment can get underway at last.”
In addition, Mapp approved the legislature’s ratification of a number of Coastal Zone Permits, including for AT&T of the Virgin Islands, Inc. and Lovango Shores, LLC in St. John.