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Some 37 Senators Want FEMA and The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers To Explain Why It’s Taking So Long To Bring Electricity Back To The VI and PR

DOVER — U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons are among 35 senators demanding federal administration officials expedite and better coordinate the ongoing power restoration efforts in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week.

“We write to express our serious concern with the on-going power restoration efforts,” the letter began. “The continued significant power outages throughout Puerto Rico and the USVI pose a serious threat to public health and safety.”

They stated the agencies’ lack of coordination with local officials coupled with a lack of materials and support services on the the ground is threatening recovery and rebuilding efforts.

The senators laid out some demands, particularly with respect to Puerto Rico, where only 26.2 percent of customers have electricity more than one month after Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean island.

According to the letter, the senators requested that FEMA and the Army Corps, in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, establish a clear chain of command to ensure contracts are awarded and resources are put to work as efficiently as possible.

The letter cited how USACE and PREPA have separately contracted with several companies to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid.

“Identify a responsible official to oversee all contracts and coordinate with local officials so that work will be as efficient and effective as possible,” the letter read.

Additionally, the senators encouraged the agencies to clear crews from Texas-based engineering and construction firm, Fluor, and North Carolina-based PowerSecure, an energy and utility infrastructure provider to begin work immediately.

“The vast majority of crews and materials from these two companies to begin major work will not arrive in Puerto Rico until the first week of November at the earliest, which is simply unacceptable,” said the letter, pointing out Hurricane Maria made landfall more than 40 days earlier.

According to the letter, these things in concert have threatened the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Carper, a senior member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, hopes to visit Puerto Rico this weekend to see the devastation for himself. Coincidentally, the committee held a hearing on Tuesday reviewing the federal response overall during the 2017 hurricane season.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long was among four witnesses who testified.

“To their credit, each of our witnesses today fully acknowledged not everything has been perfect,” said Carper, adding Long cited one of the most challenging aspects this season overall has been poor communication.

“He said what we need to focus on is communications, inter-operability of communications, sustainable communications, so that when you have another bad storm … that the ability to communicate … is not undermined by total failure of a communication system.”

In spite of the letter, Carper defended FEMA and USACE, which were already stretched thin after responding to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which hit Texas and Florida respectively. Then when Maria hit, Carper said both agencies had to play an “oversized role,” in Puerto Rico since many of the island’s own first responders were victims.

Challenges notwithstanding, Carper said there is an opportunity now to build a 21st century energy system in Puerto Rico.

“That’s the long-term picture. And if we simply just come in here and help them patch together their expensive, inefficient old system, polluting system, we’ll have missed a great opportunity,” Carper said. “And frankly, Puerto Rico will have been denied one of the key elements of what any state or nation needs, and that is affordable, dependable energy supply.”

In addition to Carper and Coons, both D-Del, 32 other Democrats signed the letter, including Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, also added his signature to the letter.

HURRICANE RESTORATION UPDATE (FRIDAY)

ELECTRIC SYSTEM

• On St. Croix Friday, crews working on Feeder 1A in downtown Christiansted energized from Hospital Street to the VIPD marine base, Hotel on the Cay and Bryan’s Marina. On Feeder 2A, reconstruction of primary circuits continued along Gallows Bay road toward Pearl B. Larsen school, and from Canegata Ballpark toward Recovery Hill. Crews commenced work on Feeder 3A, while on Feeder 4A, residences in Golden Rock and the federal courthouse were energized. On Feeder 5A, crews energized residences and businesses in Estates Ruby, Sunny Acres, Joseph E. James Home for the Elderly and the Department of Finance. Primary circuits were also energized as were customers in Estate Mary’s Fancy.

• On St. John, crews worked from the Department of Public Works toward Bellevue. Customers in the Peter Bay area, as well as the Gallows Point Resort, were restored. Work continued in the Grunwald area on Feeder 9E.

• On St. Thomas, crews continued work on circuits from Wintberg and Mandahl to the Yvonne Bowsky Elementary School on Feeder 9C. Customers on portions of Feeder 7C, in Anna’s Retreat in the area of Camorino Circle were energized. On Feeder 7D, the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School as well as the offices of the Bureau of Internal Revenue have been readied for connection to the electrical grid. On Feeder 9D, from Fredenhoj to Nadir, crews will make technical adjustments to three-phase power lines which will involve a service interruption on Sunday. Crews began work on Friday to energize gas stations and streetlights in Bovoni and Nadir.

• Traffic flow will be affected on Saturday as restoration work continues. On St. Croix, crews will work along Centerline Road and in downtown Christiansted, on the Northshore Road, Five Corners and Rattan. Other work areas will have minimal effect on traffic. On St. Thomas, traffic will be slowed along Frenchman’s Bay road toward Bolongo, on St. Peter Mountain Road and on the Smith Bay Road. On Saturday, a debris removal and cleanup on Raphune Hill toward Weymouth Rhymer Highway will affect traffic flow as will a road closure in Estate Wintberg from the Donoe /Annas Retreat intersection to Mandahl. On St. John, continued work on Feeder 9E will affect traffic flow around Estate Grunwald. Motorists are advised to adhere to the directions of flaggers, military police and VIPD officers who are assisting with traffic control. Additionally, motorists are encouraged to use alternate routes and avoid the work areas when possible.

• WAPA advises residents that it is necessary to shut off standby generators when line crews are in your neighborhood restoring electrical service. A standby generator has the potential to back feed electricity to the grid which poses a severe safety risk to restoration crews.

• All electrical problems must be reported to the WAPA Emergency Call Centers to be properly documented and tracked. These problems include, but are not limited to, electrical service interruptions as well as damaged and downed facilities such as poles, transformers, and power lines. The Emergency Call Centers operate 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., seven days per week. St. Thomas – St. John: 340-774-1424 and St. Croix: 340-773-0150.

• WAPA personnel has removed electrical meters at locations where damage was apparent to either an electrical meter base and/or weather head. Home and business owners are advised to make repairs to their damaged weather heads and/or meter bases as soon as possible. Once crews have reached your neighborhood, those customers who have not had their weather head or meter base repaired, will not have service immediately restored. Additionally, customers and electricians are reminded that it is against the law to remove or otherwise destroy meter seals. If work needs to be done to repair a damaged meter base and or weather head, contact WAPA’s Emergency Call Centers which operate seven days a week, 9 am – 5 pm.

POTABLE WATER SYSTEM

• There are six days of emergency water storage on St. John, ten days on St. Thomas and six days on St. Croix.

• WAPA reminds the public that a precautionary boil water notice, for potable water customers, is in place for the District of St. Croix. Due to a drop in water pressure, as a precaution, we advise that all water used for drinking, cooking, making infant formula or juices, making ice, brushing teeth, washing fruits or vegetables and washing dishes, be boiled. Bringing water to a rolling boil and maintaining for one full minute is sufficient. Water must be adequately cooled before it can be used and should be stored in clean, covered containers. As an alternative, bottled water certified for sale by the Department of Health may be used. The boil water notice for the St. Thomas-St. John district has been lifted.

• WAPA urges clean-up contractors and homeowners in both districts to exercise caution when piling debris on and around potable water meters. There are a growing number of instances where water meters are being damaged by clean-up equipment grading debris and causing damage to the roadside water meters. The continued damage by heavy equipment poses difficulty in maintaining or restoring potable water service to customers.

 

HURRICANE RESTORATION UPDATE (THURSDAY)

ELECTRIC SYSTEM

• On St. Thomas Thursday, restoration crews energized additional customers in Lindbergh Bay, Contant and along the Red Hook road from WAPA’s electrical substation to Sapphire Beach resort. Additional customers were energized in the Tutu and Anna’s Retreat areas, as well as on the roadway from Cassi Hill intersection toward Tabor and Harmony. Reconstruction crews have completed work on a primary circuit in Contant leading toward Soto Town. Other crews have completed planting poles on a portion of Feeder 10A in Frenchtown, primary lines will be strung beginning next week. Poles have also been planted on the west end of the island up to the Bordeaux fire station. Crews are also reconstructing circuits in Wintberg and along the Frenchman’s Bay roadway toward Bolongo.

• On Water Island, an estimated 85% of the replacement poles have been planted and service restoration is expected by the third week of November.

• On St. John, the Westin Resort was energized on Thursday, and customers in Estate Pastory and Grunwald were also restored. Work continues to reconstruct circuits on both Feeders 7E and 9E.

• On St. Croix, service was restored to customers along Sion Hill, across from Mary’s Fancy, and in the Watergut housing community. Reconstruction crews continued planting poles and redeveloping circuits in Barren Spot, downtown Christiansted, from the Frederiksted public parking lot to Rainbow Beach, from the Frederiksted post office to Marley Homes, along Centerline Road, and in Estates Campo Rico and Whim. Additional poles were planted in the vicinity of Canegata Ball Park and along the roadway toward the federal building in Golden Rock.

• Traffic flow will be affected on Friday as restoration work continues. On St. Croix, crews will work along Centerline Road and in downtown Christiansted. Other work areas will have minimal effect on traffic. On St. Thomas, traffic will be slowed along Frenchman’s Bay road toward Bolongo, on St. Peter Mountain Road and in Red Hook toward Smith Bay. On St. John, crews will work near the Cruz Bay fire station, in Bellevue, on North Shore road, Centerline Road, near Gallows Point and on Gifft Hill. Motorists are advised to adhere to the directions of flaggers, military police and VIPD officers who are assisting with traffic control. Additionally, motorists are encouraged to use alternate routes and avoid the work areas when possible.

• WAPA advises residents that it is necessary to shut off standby generators when line crews are in your neighborhood restoring electrical service. A standby generator has the potential to back feed electricity to the grid which poses a severe safety risk to restoration crews.

• All electrical problems must be reported to the WAPA Emergency Call Centers to be properly documented and tracked. These problems include, but are not limited to, electrical service interruptions as well as damaged and downed facilities such as poles, transformers, and power lines. The Emergency Call Centers operate 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., seven days per week. St. Thomas – St. John: 340-774-1424 and St. Croix: 340-773-0150.

• WAPA personnel has removed electrical meters at locations where damage was apparent to either an electrical meter base and/or weather head. Home and business owners are advised to make repairs to their damaged weather heads and/or meter bases as soon as possible. Once crews have reached your neighborhood, those customers who have not had their weather head or meter base repaired, will not have service immediately restored. Additionally, customers and electricians are reminded that it is against the law to remove or otherwise destroy meter seals. If work needs to be done to repair a damaged meter base and or weather head, contact WAPA’s Emergency Call Centers which operate seven days a week, 9 am – 5 pm.

POTABLE WATER SYSTEM

• There are six days of emergency water storage on St. John, ten days on St. Thomas and six days on St. Croix.

• WAPA reminds the public that a precautionary boil water notice for potable water customers is in place territory-wide. Due to a drop in water pressure, as a precaution, we advise that all water used for drinking, cooking, making infant formula or juices, making ice, brushing teeth, washing fruits or vegetables and washing dishes, be boiled. Bringing water to a rolling boil and maintaining for one full minute is sufficient. Water must be adequately cooled before it can be used and should be stored in clean, covered containers. As an alternative, bottled water certified for sale by the Department of Health may be used.

• WAPA urges clean-up contractors and homeowners in both districts to exercise caution when piling debris on and around potable water meters. There are a growing number of instances where water meters are being damaged by clean-up equipment grading debris and causing damage to the roadside water meters. The continued damage by heavy equipment poses difficulty in maintaining or restoring potable water service to customers.

OTHER INFORMATION

• Emergency Call Centers operate 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., seven days a week. St. Thomas – St. John district, 340-774-1424; St. Croix district, 340-773-0150

• WAPA telephone contact: St. Thomas – St. John district, 340-774-3552; St. Croix district, 340-773-2250

• Customer Service Offices are now operating Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Sunny Isle on St. Croix and at Port of Sale Mall on St. Thomas

• WAPA website: www.viwapa.vi

• Facebook: Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority

• We continue to Recover, Rebuild and Restore.
WAPA…Working for You!!

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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