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Bill To Give WAPA An ‘Oversight Management Committee’ In Senate Today

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Bill No. 33-0346, written to establish an oversight management committee for the Water and Power Authority (WAPA), will be heard in the Committee on Rules and the Judiciary today.

This legislation is the brainchild of Senators Sarauw, Frett-Gregory and Vialet who have been working on this legislation since September of 2019.

Staggering utility rates in the territory, coupled with poor service and increasing debt pushed the senators to craft this significant piece of legislation as the growing challenges with WAPA continue to plague the community.

The Water and Power Authority, a semi-autonomous agency and the sole power utility in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been plagued with various, long-standing issues, ranging from outdated infrastructure and equipment, to gross mismanagement.

Over the years, this has caused an increasing number of outages throughout the territory, wreaking havoc on WAPA customers not only in exorbitant utility bills, but also by causing household and commercial equipment failures.

Senator Donna Frett-Gregory (left) confers with Senator Janelle Sarauw in the Senate.

In order to address the severe deficiency of WAPA’s ability to provide reliable service at reasonable costs to residents, the trio of senators have been working for several months to research various options for the Authority.

Having found that WAPA is unable to adequately serve its customers and manage power utility needs, Bill No. 33-0346 gives the governor the authority to temporarily appoint an independent management entity with fiduciary oversight to bring the company up to appropriate regulatory and
operational standards.

“As we make strides in our recovery with aims to bolster economic
development, we must provide the basic necessities and infrastructure for economic stability to occur,” Senator Donna Frett-Gregory said. “Stabilizing WAPA should be at the top of the agenda.”

The bill specifically outlines the qualifications for each oversight member.
The overarching goal of this legislation is to improve the services offered by WAPA, to address the high cost of use, and to loosen the ball-and-chain effect of resulting debts through effective oversight, coordination, and planning.

“It is time that we treat WAPA with the urgency of the emergency that it is, our residents deserve the reliability of their utilities in the 21st century,” Senator Janelle Sarauw said. “This legislation presents a vital solution and is very specific to addressing the pressing utility crisis we are currently facing daily.”

“It is an attempt to analyze the present administrative structure and to make the necessary changes it requires,” St. Croix Senator Kurt Vialet said. “The utility will be analyzed by subject area experts.”

All three Senators pledged to partner with their colleagues in the 33rd Legislature to gain the necessary support to move the legislation forward.

Together, they believe it’s time to hold the authority accountable and provide relief to rate payers.

“Our people cannot wait any longer for decisive leadership,” the senators said.

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