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Sunday, February 5, 2023


Oct. 18, 2001 – Joseph Thomas, executive director of the Water and Power Authority, didn't mince words about the state of the territory's economy at Thursday's board meeting.
As he outlined WAPA's positive outlook and ongoing projects, he tempered his remarks with acknowledgment of the territory's fiscal downturn. "We are in an economic slump," he said. "This is the most important item on the agenda today. If we lose a big block of hotels, we have to have strategies to counter. These are thorny issues."
Joseph with board approval appointed an ad hoc Economic Crisis Committee, to be chaired by G. Luz James Sr., with board chair Carol Burke, Claude A. "Tappy" Molloy and Andrew Rutnik as the other members.
A main part of dealing with the slump in tourism brought on by the terrorist attacks last month is the Key Accounts program, something Joseph mandated in the strategic plan for WAPA he announced shortly after taking over as executive director in May. "It's even more of a priority now," he said Thursday.
The program assigns a higher level of care to the authority's larger customers — hotels, resorts, industries, the government — by establishing incentive rates and innovative service options.
Joseph said he had met with representatives of the hotel associations and chambers of commerce and administration financial officers to work out a strategy for helping the hotels through their current low-occupancy crisis.
"It's not easy," he said. "We can't give them a four-month moratorium as they requested." He said the authority's first obligations are to its bondholders and consumers.
Burke agreed, saying that if WAPA agreed to deferred payments, "Our bondholders would put us in jail."
Thomas said the authority is working with the V.I. Energy Office to conduct energy audits and see where money could be saved by reducing consumer demand. "The hotels and the government over-consume," he said.
He expressed sympathy for the hotels' plight, but added, "If we gave the hotels a moratorium, then what is the individual consumer to think? The single mother? … We'd have everyone coming to our doors looking for the same consideration. Legally and morally, how could we say no? We have to show equal treatment."
He suggested one route for the hotels might be to apply for low-interest loans.
WAPA has a heightened security program in effect that requires visitors to obtain passes to gain access to the upstairs offices in the headquarters in Sub Base on St. Thomas. "We have been very active" in upgrading security, Thomas said. "A number of roads are closed, we have extra armed guards on all three islands, and we may request the use of the National Guard."
Thomas introduced Robert J. Vodzack, WAPA's new chief financial officer, newly arrived from Marysville, Pa. Vodzack is an innovative financial executive with a strong background in utilities, his boss said.
Vodzack greeted the board with a brief rundown of his career and a firm smile. "I've just been on the job four days," he said, "so I'm educating myself about WAPA."
Thomas said the government still owes about $5 million on its past-due accounts, with the money to be paid by Nov. 15. He said, also with a smile, "It's one more week before the nasty letters go out."
In other matters, the board was told that:
– The long-awaited Unit 22 on St. Thomas is expected to be fully operational on Monday.
– A workshop is being conducted on the feasibility of WAPA's plan to assume responsibility for the territory's street and area lights from the Public Works Department.
– A new communications office, including an outreach speakers bureau, is in operation. Thomas noted that he has spoken on radio and TV talk shows and at Rotary Club meetings, job fairs, chambers of commerce after-hours events and a Boy Scouts fishing tournament. "And I'm not running for office," he joked.
Attending the meeting were board members Burke, Alphonso Franklin, William Lomax, James, Molloy and Rutnik. J. Arthur Downing; Ira M. Hobson, Housing, Parks and Recreation commissioner; and Attorney General Iver Stridiron were absent.

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