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Friday, January 27, 2023



Dec. 1, 2001 – Joseph Thomas, Water and Power Authority executive director, is seeking support of his conditions for the utility to take over the territory's street lighting, and he is asking for it from the audience he thinks the move would benefit the most — the public.
Wednesday at 6 p.m., the Senate Rules Committee is to consider legislation transferring responsibility for street and area lights from the Public Works Department to WAPA. In a prepared statement issued Friday, Thomas urges members of the community to write their senators about two major problems he has with the bill as it stands:
– It doesn't provide WAPA with the same limited liability for claims — $25,000 — that Public Works now has. Thomas said the Virgin Islands is disproportionately litigious for its population and structure, and the street-lighting operation is expected to lead to claims which exceed the utility's current risk profile. Cost estimates for the anticipated litigation aren't included in the operational estimates WAPA has provided the Legislature, he said.
– It calls for WAPA to maintain the street lighting with an annual government appropriation, something the utility doesn't want to do. Thomas has suggested a monthly surcharge on residential electric bills of about $1.77 as a reliable source of revenue to operate the lighting system and protect WAPA.
He believes people will be willing to pay such an amount to ensure first-class lighting. WAPA has a plan in place to get all 8,000 of the territory's street lights repaired and operating within 18 months. "The street-light business, if properly protected, will raise the quality of life in the V.I. in terms of safety, security and beautification. It is a good long-term solution," he said.
Given the experience WAPA has had with collecting delinquent government utility accounts, Thomas said, there is no guarantee that an appropriation would come through each year.
"The authority wants it clearly understood," he said, "that if an appropriations approach is employed by the Legislature, all street/area light employees will have to be contract employees and all vehicles will have to be leased. If funding stops or is delayed, the lighting work will cease. The authority cannot cross-subsidize an unfunded business from the fragile electric and water utilities. This would be in violation of V.I. Code and WAPA's water and electric bond convenants."
Although the government has taken steps this year to get current with its accounts, it still owes WAPA more than $10 million in delinquent bills, $2.5 million of that due from Public Works for street lighting, and $3.2 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, the statement said. The money the authority received from the government this year, Thomas said, went to restore its debt-service reserve fund, to fund capital projects, and to prevent a 2002 rate increase.
Contrary to some recent allegations, Thomas said in the statement, the V.I. Code, Title 1, Section 30 clearly directs the executive branch to maintain the territory's street and area lights. The executive branch has assigned that responsibility to Public Works, he said.
A report in The Avis on Friday had to do with the liability concerns WAPA has with the bill before the Senate. It quoted St. Croix attorney Alan Christian citing another part of the V. I. Code. He said the section describes the creation of a fund to go directly to WAPA every year to acquire and maintain the street lights. Christian said the Legislature would be "repeating itself" by passing the new legislation.
Christian is suing the government and WAPA for a client who was injured in a car accident, alleging poor street lighting and poor road conditions were at fault. Christian said he found in his research that WAPA was responsible for the lights, and "WAPA officials always seem to point the finger at DPW." He could not be reached by telephone Friday evening.
The Rules Committee is chaired by Sen. Carlton Dowe. The other members are Sens. Adelbert Bryan, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Celestino A. White Sr.

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