RULES CONTINUES WATER BARGE PROBE

May 3, 2001 – The Senate Rules Committee spent the day Thursday digging further into the controversy over the Public Works water barge and the contract with Jost Van Dyke Water Co. to operate it in the British Virgin Islands.
Wayne Callwood, commissioner-designate, said the contract was canceled after it became the center of controversy at his first confirmation hearing in April.
The barge, which houses electrical generators as well as a reverse osmosis plant, was one of six barges that the Virgin Islands acquired in 1998 from the federal General Services Administration. Ownership does not actually pass to the territory until 2003.
David Blyden, president of Jost Van Dyke Water Co., said the barge will be returned to the U.S. Virgin Islands in a week or so.
"As far as I'm concerned, contract is over," Attorney General Iver Stridiron said. The only thing left to deal with is reimbursing Blyden for the money he spent in getting it operational.
But several senators were not placated.
They grilled not only the commissioner nominee but Public Works officials Verne Callwood and Roan Creque, as well as Blyden, Stridiron and Marc Briggs, commissioner of Property and Procurement.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan said the barge cost $5.2 million in May of 1992 and was pronounced in "pristine condition" as late as 1999 by Verne Callwood. Bryan said he did not believe that the barge had been vandalized as administration officials said.
Under Bryan's questioning, Callwood admitted Public Works had not reported the incidents of vandalism and possible theft to GSA authorities or to local or federal law-enforcement officials.
Bryan said he wanted copies of the General Services Administration documents, but Verne Callwood said Public Works does not have them.
Then-Gov. Roy Schneider and Samuel Ebbesen, head of Innovative Telephone, handled the transfer, Verne Callwood said.
Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Donald "Ducks" Cole suggested that the barge was allowed by the Turnbull administration to sit unused and deteriorate because it had been acquired by the previous administration.
Stridiron denied that. He said the problem was that when they were received, "no one had a thought of how those barges were going to be used." They were assigned to Public Works as an "unfunded mandate."
Verne Callwood testified that former Sen. Bingley Richardson, then a Public Works employee, had oversight for the barges, including the water barge. Richardson is now working in the British Virgin Islands.
Two of the hot potatoes from the last hearing in April had cooled somewhat by Thursday. Stridiron said he had kept at arm's length from the contract dispute, since Blyden is his brother-in-law. He said the contract was not rushed through his department. Rather than taking a week to process, as senators had said at the last hearing, it took about a month, he said.
Stridiron said the contract was sent back to Public Works once to have some problems corrected; once it was returned, he said, it took only a week to gather the necessary signatures.
Under questioning by Bryan, Blyden said the barge was moved to Jost Van Dyke in mid-March and was operational by mid-April. Only one of the water plants aboard is operating now, he said. Both are capable of generating 150,000 gallons of water a day. However, Blyden said, the barge has been producing only 40,000 gallons to 50,000 gallons a day for the last two weeks, because that's all the island's infrastructure can handle right at present.
Bryan and Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel said they want a list from Blyden of the equipment he put on the barge and repairs he made to it to make it operational. Bryan said he also wants a copy of the letter that Verne Callwood said he wrote the night before to inform the FBI about the vandalism to the boat, and he wants to see an inventory of what was aboard the barge when it arrived in the Virgin Islands, and then when it left.
The Rules Committee chair, Carlton Dowe, said hearings will continue on the barge issue.

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