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SENATOR GITTENS: WAPA Failed To Notify VIFS About ‘Major Diesel Fuel Oil Spill’

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Senator Kenneth Gittens took Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority officials to task Wednesday for failing to notify the appropriate local authorities and nearby residents of a major diesel fuel oil spill at the Randolph Harley Power Plant at Krum Bay on St. Thomas.

The St. Croix Senator also expressed concerns about a major financial loss at WAPA. Questioning WAPA officials, Senator Gittens learned the loss was approximately $2.3 million. The money was allegedly wired to an offshore account in May and June of 2018.

“While these two matters are very different in nature, they are indicative of WAPA’s longtime pattern of mismanagement and sweeping serious matters under the rug,” Senator Gittens said. “It is really disappointing as it seemed we were finally getting somewhere following the massive rebuild after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”

During Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole hearing on St. Thomas WAPA officials testified about concerns over funds owed to the entity by the Territory’s hospitals and other agencies. During WAPA’s presentation they showed a video depicting a recent fuel oil spill at the Harley Plant.

“It was revealed that WAPA failed to notify either the V.I. Fire Service or VITEMA, despite the fact this was a spill involving highly flammable, hazardous materials,” Senator Gittens said. “I requested that WAPA officials provide a copy of their protocols in the event of such spills, as protecting the safety of the public and WAPA employees is my highest priority. As a result of what we learned today, I am publicly asking that the V.I. Fire Service inspect WAPA’s facilities for any violations to our fire code.”

WAPA CEO Lawrence Kupfer said he could not disagree with some of the concerns raised by Senator Gittens about advising the appropriate local authorities of spills or other possible hazards.

“Notifying the Fire Service in a case like that probably makes some sense,” Kupfer said.

Kupfer also confirmed Wednesday that approximately $2.3 million was wired from WAPA accounts to an offshore bank last year. The incident, which actually consisted of two transactions, was reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), according to WAPA’s Legal Counsel Lorelei Farrington.

Senator Gittens asked WAPA’s leadership how long it took them to notice the missing funds.

“The June transaction was picked up almost immediately, the May transaction was not,” Farrington said.

Senator Gittens said that the utility could not afford such a loss.

“It is now a full year since these transactions took place and we have very little information,” Senator Gittens said. “I am urging WAPA to aggressively pursue the return of these funds and work to see that such a thing does not occur again. This is a serious matter. We must take all steps necessary to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse of our resources.”

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