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SENATOR GITTENS: WAPA Wasting Millions On Unneeded Property Leases

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority (WAPA) has provided copies of the leases requested by Senator Kenneth Gittens, but he said that “they do little to alleviate concerns about the utility’s spending and management practices.”

 “I do appreciate that WAPA’s CEO eventually provided additional information on these leases, but his response raises more questions than delivers answers,” Senator Gittens said. “I visited the two properties in question on Tuesday and there is what I would describe as a blatant waste and abuse of resources going on at a time when WAPA can barely keep the lights on.”

WAPA’s place at Four Winds Plaza on St. Thomas

Following the 33rd Legislature’s investigative hearing on October 1, 2019, Senator Gittens requested copies of all of WAPA’s leases, with a particular concern about what he described as underutilized properties leased by WAPA on St. Thomas. In his letter to WAPA’s CEO, Lawrence Kupfer, Senator Gittens asked what steps have been taken, or are being considered, to terminate or modify these leases accordingly as they are costing the utility more than $52,000 per month or $624,000 per year. 

“I am in the process of requesting further details from WAPA as, frankly, I am dismayed by the information provided,” Senator Gittens said. “For example, in his letter Mr. Kupfer indicates that the WAPA customer service office in Four Winds Plaza was destroyed in the hurricanes and is not usable, yet we continue to pay more than $11,000 each month in rent for this property alone. Why?” 

Senator Gittens said that the situation was even more troubling at the Estate Bolongo “staging area” where many of WAPA’s trucks are parked at a cost of more than $41,000 each month. CEO Kupfer’s letter states that 13,395 square feet of office space is included in the rental cost, however, Senator Gittens indicated that this is totally misleading. 

“While there is a large building on the property that formerly was a bowling alley, it is not being utilized by WAPA,” Senator Gittens said. “I visited this building on Tuesday and it’s and unusable so we are paying $41,666.67 each month for a 24,000 square foot dirt field and a small trailer type structure that functions as an office for the line department. This is insanity.” Senator Gittens noted that the property had been granted a use variance for office space and storage at around the same time the lease was executed.

“There are a whole other set of concerns related to the use variance granted by the 32nd Legislature,” Senator Gittens said. “Neighbors are unhappy as this is more of an active staging area than a ‘storage’ space and is considered hazardous.” Senator Gittens said that the two three-year term leases were valued at approximately $2 million. “We should be reinvesting this money in WAPA’s infrastructure or employees, or in bringing some relief to ratepayers,” he said. “WAPA states that FEMA will reimburse or cover some of these rental costs, however, no waste of resources is acceptable and could jeopardize our ability to get further assistance.” 

The St. Croix Senator indicated he would provide his colleagues with the information from WAPA and would request a meeting with the Senate President to discuss the body’s role moving forward.

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