Bryan Focuses on Projects, WAPA, Workforce in League of Women Voters Speech

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. gives his keynote address virtually to the League of Women Voters during their annual public meeting. (Screenshot from virtual meeting)

At the League of Women Voters 54th annual public session meeting Saturday, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. spoke about the challenges and opportunities for the territory in his keynote address.

Gwen Marie Moolenaar, president of the League, introduced the governor. She said it has been a tradition to have the current governor give the keynote address. After the governor gave his remarks, questions were asked by the audience.

Bryan spoke of many challenges that are facing the territory. From the workforce, to the Water and Power Authority, Bryan discussed areas that need improvement and areas he will focus on during his last term to leave for his “legacy.”

“Our threats for the future, people. We don’t have enough workforce and we don’t have enough talented workforce. … We have the most expensive workforce in the Caribbean. It’s expensive and it’s not that efficient,” said Bryan.

According to the governor’s presentation, 270 projects are currently active in the territory with 50 percent of work orders completed for recovery. Some of the projects include the building of a new lab at the University of the Virgin Islands, $350 million in a public-private partnerships for both airport renovations, a Royal Caribbean investment of $200 million for a new berth and waterpark in Crown Bay, and the expansion of transshipment facilities on St. Thomas.

“Of the $52 billion dollars in exports that leaves Miami, $24 billion comes through St. Thomas. So being able to transship is an important part of our business,” said Bryan.

Additionally, the waterfront expansion and Raphune Hill expansion are underway, while updates to the Lionel Roberts Stadium, Emile Griffith Ballpark, Joseph Aubain Ballpark, and Kirwin Terrace Ballpark are under contracts for repair along with the demolition of Charlotte Amalie High School and reconstruction of the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School.

However, “the big things remain there” such as the hospitals, said Bryan. Recently, a settlement of $800 million was reached with FEMA for updates to the Juan F. Luis Hospital.

“My focus is on WAPA. If I fix the energy problem in the Virgin Islands once and for all, make it affordable, make it reliable, it’s the most impactful thing I can do physically in three years,” Bryan said.

He mentioned that the government was approved on Friday by the Legislature for a line of credit to give Vitol $45 million, with plans to pay the company $145 million, in part using $2 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds. However, once Vitol is paid off, “we still have a dark road” with WAPA, said Bryan.

Some positive things the governor addressed to the League of Women Voters pertained to the economy and tourism. Bryan said that the Virgin Islands is leading the tourism industry with a 24 percent growth in arrivals compared to the rest of the Caribbean that only has 12-13 percent in growth.

“Our economy is doing well. We have a four and a-half percent [un]employment rate overall, and that’s primarily in St. Croix. In St. Thomas it’s three and a half. We have a lot of money in the Virgin Islands. Our finances are really well,” the governor said, adding that “we are in a position where we can run down our daily cash because we have so many cash reserves.”

According to the governor, the territory has $50 million in a rainy day fund. There is an additional $17 million in the Public Finance Authority, another $40 million “in a tranche,” and $200 million at JPMorgan Chase Bank that, as of last month, generated $750,000 in interest. He addressed that there was animosity surrounding the government removing money from the territory after almost a year was spent negotiating with two local banks to get a $60 million loan. However, he said that as a result of establishing new banking relations, the territory now has a $150 million line of credit.

Bryan added that within the next two years, 700 new hotel rooms will be available on St. Thomas between the Marriott, the West Indian Co., and Sugar Bay.

Regarding his legacy, the governor said that there are two things he wants to do.

“I want to be the governor that signs the Constitution” within the next wo years, and move the territory “to numbered seats in the Legislature.” Bryan said that he is “very concerned about our political leadership in the Virgin Islands.”

Moolenaar ended the meeting by wishing the governor much success and informing him that the League will continue to be involved in assisting with government relations.