Legislature Urges Governor to Take Decisive Action on WAPA

Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory  (Photo by Barry Leerdam, V.I. Legislature)

The leadership of the 34th Legislature of the Virgin Islands is calling on Governor Albert A. Bryan, Jr., once again, to take immediate action on addressing the issues that exist at the V.I. Water and Power Authority. The situation at the Water and Power Authority continues to create anxiety and economic uncertainty for the people of the territory. The territory has continued to experience blackouts absent of bad weather or other natural disasters. These last few blackouts are clear indicators that the situation is not improving, but rather, is deteriorating.

The Legislature of the Virgin Islands has attempted to address the issues with the Water and Power Authority through legislation aimed at creating accountability and efficiency within the authority. Those measures have been vetoed by the Governor. “I joined this institution in the 33rd Legislature and there have been meetings, hearings, and legislation vetted to address the issues at the authority,” said Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory. “Our attempts to address the matter legislatively were vetoed at the end of the 33rd, those measures were reintroduced in the 34th, and the Governor, in his wisdom, vetoed the measures.” Of equal concern, while the Governor continues to use his veto pen, there has been no interest from the chief executive in having a discussion with the institution on what his plans are in addressing WAPA. Those plans cannot just be what we are receiving in federal funds as a result of the hurricanes of 2017. Communication is essential, and it is lacking. “My colleagues and I agree that making substantive improvements to WAPA will take collective, decisive action,” said Senate Vice President Novelle E. Francis Jr. “This issue won’t be solved overnight, but through intentional movement towards a strong utility.”

From the beginning of 2021, there has been an exodus of leadership from the authority. To date, we have not seen any serious movement or action taken by the current Governing Board of the V.I. Water and Power to replace leadership. The Legislature through Bill No. 34-0021, which was subsequently vetoed, would have provided the mechanism to provide support to the operations of the utility. Further, it allowed for what is obviously necessary, oversight and assessment. The operations of the Authority’s generation, transmission and distribution system have to be mapped and planned out properly, which requires personnel as outlined in a prior report. “Tough decisions will have to be made, we cannot continue on this trajectory of uncertainty, and there are many of us that simply cannot afford a generator and should not be made to suffer in darkness,” said Frett-Gregory.

The Governor of the Virgin Islands stated in his recent veto message. “…the Legislature has, again, intruded into the supervisory and decision-making powers of the Executive Branch…” The Legislature of the Virgin Islands demands that the Governor take his supervisory and decision-making powers and use them to place leadership into the authority and to ensure that the people of the Virgin Islands are not sitting in darkness. “We are all elected to make decisions on behalf of the people, that includes tough decisions, such as the decisions that have to be made with WAPA and GERS, not just palatable decisions,” said Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory.