CHRISTIANSTED — The cost to rebuild the Virgin Islands’ infrastructure after last month’s devastating Category 5 hurricanes is guess-stimated at $5.5 billion dollars, Gov. Kenneth Mapp said Thursday.
In a letter forwarded to congressional leaders, the governor outlined the costs associated with restoring the territory’s power system, rebuilding schools and hospitals, repairing government facilities and covering revenue losses as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“On behalf of the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands, we are grateful for your concern and dedication to our recovery,” Mapp wrote. “After a comprehensive and thoughtful examination of our damages and recovery requirements, we believe that disaster assistance and support of approximately $5.5 billion would enable the territory to address the most essential needs of American citizens residing in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The government, in collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies, completed a detailed sector-by-sector assessment of the damages across the territory in order to arrive at the $5.5 billion figure.
The most significant costs are for housing – estimated at $1.36 billion. Rebuilding destroyed schools is expected to cost $715 million and restoring the U.S. Virgin Islands power system is estimated to cost $680 million.
Mapp addressed his appeal to Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles Schumer and to House Members Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi and Virgin Islands Delegate Stacey Plaskett. The governor told Congress that more than 100,000 Virgin Islanders were affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria – which came a mere 12 days apart and brought winds of up to 200+mph and more than 20 inches of rain.
“Power lines are strewn across our roads; utility poles snapped in half like matchsticks; boats lie sunken in the harbors; many thousands of our homes stand heavily damaged or destroyed and some of our major road systems are impassable,” Mapp wrote. “Many structures on our beautiful islands are gone, reduced to rubble by the tremendous force of these back-to-back Category 5 storms. Both of our hospitals and the appurtenant health facilities, four schools, two fire stations, a police station, and much of our infrastructure have been destroyed. The terminals at the Cyril E. King and Henry Rohlsen airports are heavily damaged. Many government offices are unusable, facilities of the judicial and legislative branches have been damaged and governmental operations have been drastically impacted and reduced by the hurricanes. There is no power on St. John and very limited power on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Virtually all of the power distribution infrastructure was destroyed, and most telephone lines are down and cellular towers destroyed. Most homes, hotels, and resorts are either destroyed or substantially damaged.”
The governor said that in addition to the physical damage, the Virgin Islands economy had “ground to a near standstill” and that the loss of revenue will subject the government to unsustainable cash shortfalls. Losses to the General Fund are estimated at $450 million.
The governor wrote that the Virgin Islands was committed to efficiently carrying out recovery efforts, however, that it would take the help of Congress “to do what is essential.”
“We are at the U.S. government’s mercy,” he said.
Mapp’s letter to Congress can be viewed here.
Mapp originally told FEMA that the territory only needed $750,000 to repair the territory after the hurricanes, according to Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett.
“I have read news reports and also been informed by many of my Congressional colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee – the committee which allocates federal dollars – that you have indicated $750 million will be sufficient for our rebuilding process in the Virgin Islands. After extensive conversations with the Army Corp, developers, recovery experts, and Members of Congress intimately involved in prior recovery legislation (notably after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and Superstorm Sandy), this amount seems to be a mere fraction of what will actually be needed in the long-term. Can you please verify this amount and your rationale?” Plaskett said. “I believe we cannot undercut or in any way minimize our true need, but instead be positioned to fight for every last federal dollar to ensure our territory and its people can be made whole after the historic devastation we have just endured.”