About 40 residents braved the rain on November 9 and gathered across from the St. John Legislature building to tell WAPA its rates are too high.
If anyone at the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority was listening, they got an earful on their high rates and bad service from all three islands on Wednesday, November 9, as protests were organized territory-wide.
In Love City about 40 residents stood across the street from the new St. John Legislature Building waving placards denouncing WAPA’s LEAC rates and calling for change at the public utility.
“We are here to protest the high LEAC cost,” said Paul Devine. “WAPA’s inefficiencies are due to the inefficiency of the WAPA Board. We need to put people in there with technical ability and fiscal responsibility.”
“The political appointees in there now won’t make it anymore,” said Devine.
WAPA has a nine member board, six of which are outright appointed by Governor John deJongh. The remaining three seats on the board are nominated by the governor and then approved by the senate.
“That is something the governor can do right away and it would make an immediate change,” said Devine.
Since the LEAC rate derives in part from the amount WAPA is not paid by the V.I. government and other large-scale users like territory hospitals, and is then leveraged on rate payers, subsidies should be found to off-set that rate, Devine added.
“Subsidies should be found to help pay down the huge debt the government owes WAPA and it can not be a tax on the people,” he said.
Former Verace jewelry store owner Luigi Costello joined the anti-WAPA protest to show concern for entrepreneurs.
“As a retired entrepreneur myself, I understand how hard is it for any small cottage industry to start up when their electric bill is more than their rent,” said Costello. “People will have to cut back on employees which means less payroll taxes and every time a business closes that means less gross receipts for the government.
And the government already can’t pay the $15 million it owes WAPA now which sets the LEAC rate and its a terrible cycle.”
Kao Joseph is one of those small business owners who struggles to pay her WAPA bill each month. Part owner of Baked in the Sun, Joseph uses two weeks of profits during the slow season just to pay her WAPA bill, she explained.
“I’m protesting the ridiculously high WAPA rates,” said Joseph. “Our last bill from WAPA was $3,800 for one month. We have to work for two weeks just to pay the electric bill.”
“WAPA bills, government doesn’t have to pay, hospitals don’t have to pay, but business has to pay,” Joseph said, reading a sign she had made and brought to the demonstration.
“If I don’t pay, they’ll cut off my power and then I can’t run my business at all,” said Joseph.
Alphonso Queeley was standing nearby holding a simple sign that read “WAPA or Rent.”
“The WAPA rates are too high,” said Queeley. “I have to figure out each month if I can afford to pay rent or afford to pay WAPA.”
Delroy “Ital” Anthony joined the anti-WAPA protest but was also pointing out how the utility fits into the bigger picture of government corruption.
“We are here saying that WAPA is too high but also don’t forget that our children are at stake,” said Anthony.
“Look right here, you have a bar less than 100 feet from the school. The government is breaking its own laws.”
For Gary Emmons, last week’s protest was about more than just WAPA as well.
“It’s not really about WAPA, it’s the government is ripping off the people and we the people need to change the Organic Act to put government back in our hands,” said Emmons.
With similar protests occurring simultaneously outside legislature buildings on St. Thomas and St. Croix last Wednesday, the community’s message was loud and clear, according to Senator at Large Craig Barshinger.
“This is democracy in its purest form,” said Barshinger. “No one can doubt that the citizens of the territory are saying we are getting electric bills that only the wealthy can afford. The problem is that we burn $270 million of oil a year.”
“If we burn less oil, we’ll have lower rates,” said Barshinger. “We are burning an expensive fuel and there are solutions to that.”