WAPA Board Revisits Old Problems, Wants New Ways to Solve Them

WAPA staff members listen to a presentation by WAPA Board member Hubert Turnbull. (Photo from Livestream)

The Water and Power Authority’s Governing Board Thursday heard about the Vitol settlement, contract extension for Clifton Hill waterline rehabilitation, an update on Wartsila generators, cost increases for Randolph Harley Power water pump, a hiring freeze, negotiations to buy battery storage, and a proposal to give engineers time to think about long-range solutions instead of always being focused on daily crisis suffered by the Authority. The latter proposal — The Future of Engineering within the Authority — was put off until 2024 for further consideration.

Board member Hubert Turnbull who had put the future engineering question on the agenda, also had questions about the Wartsila project. The project to install four nine-megawatt, fuel-efficient Wartsila engines on St. Thomas was requiring a maintenance contract extension. Turnbull said he was concerned because companies often made their biggest profits through maintenance contracts. He asked if WAPA employees were being trained for maintenance.

John Woodson, the supervisor of the Randolph Harley Power Plant, said WAPA employees were working alongside the Wartsila workers and learning the procedures.

Turnbull said many of the WAPA employees were approaching retirement age and questioned, “What happens then?”

Woodson said, “My biggest concern is personnel – the lack thereof.” He said the recent hiring freeze passed by the Senate did not help the situation.

However, he added that even with the higher cost of maintaining the Wartsila, cost savings due to lower fuel costs could not “be beat.”

Turnbull also expressed concern about whether WAPA would be ready to fully utilize the 10MW solar farm which the developer had predicted would be finished this September. To completely take advantage of the solar savings, WAPA must have adequate battery storage. Turnbull tried to pass a motion requiring CEO Andrew Smith to accelerate negotiations to obtain a contract with a vendor of battery storage. It failed.

The board approved a price increase from nearly $500,000 to nearly $900,000 for the Randolph Harley Power water pump. Reasons for the price increase included the need for a five-way switch, a house to shelter the pump, and the rising cost of materials.

The board also approved a contract extension for Clifton Hill Waterline Rehabilitation. The delay there was attributed to WAPA’s inability to pay vendors on time.

While Smith was giving the board an update on WAPA’s plan to extricate itself from any further obligations to Vitol, Sen. Kenneth Gittens was sending out a press release questioning the transparency of the deal. In the release, Gittens said, “On April 14, 2023, my colleagues were compelled to authorize a line of credit for the Goverment in order to pay Vitol $45 million as this company threatened to cut off the U.S. Virgin Islands’ fuel supply. While WAPA still owes another $100 million to Vitol, a settlement agreement was made and, to date, I have not been able to obtain a full copy – despite the Legislature being asked to fund this agreement.”

Smith told the board that though WAPA had a confidentiality agreement with Vitol concerning the deal, all the material elements had been made public.

Attending the meeting were chair Kyle Fleming and members Juanita Young, Turnbull, and Cheryl Boynes-Jackson.