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Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Shoddy administration of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant money by the Department of Public Works over the last 15 years has left tens of millions of dollars unspent and the cost of at least one major project to triple, according to a federal audit.
A recently released U.S. Department of Interior audit of Public Works’ handling of EPA grants from 1984 through September 1999 concluded that Public Works had not used nearly $17 million in grant funds available for the construction of two wastewater treatment plants, $120,000 available for a used oil management program, and had not requested reimbursement for administrative costs totaling $63,819.
During the 15 years, EPA gave Public Works 10 grants totaling about $27.6 million for the construction and rehabilitation of wastewater treatment plants; pump stations and sewer lines; the purchase and installation of emergency generators at pump stations; and the execution of used oil management, solid waste management, and pollution prevention programs. The audit, however, found that the EPA had provided $10.6 million for the 10 grants, leaving available an unspent balances of about $17 million.
According to the audit, the EPA grants were not administered effectively because Public Works did not have a director to manage grant funding, nor did it have a staff "knowledgeable of the specific purposes of the grants, procedures to document the time charged to the grants, and sufficient coordination . . . to timely complete financial status reports and requests for reimbursement."
In at least one case, the construction of the Mangrove Lagoon Wastewater Treatment Plant on St. Thomas mandated by a federal decree, the mismanagement and lack of action means the cost of the project has increased three fold.
Between September 1984 to September 1999, the audit says, Public Works received a grant award and three amendments totaling $13.8 million, of which the local government had to pony up $200,000, for the design and construction of the wastewater treatment plant at Mangrove Lagoon.
While the design of the wastewater treatment plant has been completed and approved by EPA, construction has not started. Because of the delays by Public Works to begin work, the Interior audit estimated that costs have increased from the initial grant amount of $8.9 million in September 1984 to about $30 million as of September 30, 1999.
To cover balance left after EPA’s nearly $14 million in grants, the V.I. government, through the Public Finance Authority, was forced to issue $16 million in bonds in May 1998, the audit said.
The audit made 12 recommendations to Gov. Charles Turnbull to address the shortfalls in Public Works’ management of federal grants. The audit said that based on responses from the governor, Interior considers two recommendations implemented, four recommendations resolved but not implemented, and six recommendations unresolved.
Most of the unresolved matters surround Public Works providing a plan that includes the target date and the title of the official responsible for making sure grant funds are managed correctly and that projects are carried out.

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