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Wednesday, December 8, 2021
HomeNewsLocal newsSenate Making Road Damage Responsibility of Damager

Senate Making Road Damage Responsibility of Damager

If you damage a V.I. public road, you will be responsible to pay for its repair and could be fined up to $1,000, if two bills approved in committee Thursday become law.

 

One of the measures, Bill 31-0157, would encourage enforcement of an existing law making those responsible for damaging roads with heavy equipment liable to pay for repairs by splitting the proceeds from a $500 fine between the V.I. Police Department and the Department of Public Works.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly said she was prompted to propose the change after problems in getting Casper Holstein Drive on St. Croix repaired from heavy damage incurred during work on the V.I. National Guard’s St. Croix armory in Estate Bethlehem.

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She said VING hired an off-island contractor, who then subcontracted to a local contractor, and one of them damaged the road moving heavy equipment in and out.

"The contractors said it was not their responsibility to repair it," Rivera-O’Reilly told the Government Services, Veterans and Consumer Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Looking for legal recourse, she said, her office found there is already a law on the books that deals with heavy equipment and damage to roads, under which those who damage are required to pay, but there is also a fine of $500. They found the law is rarely cited and fines are not always levied.

Since the money currently goes to the government’s General Fund, Rivera-O’Reilly said she felt "a way to incentivize enforcement of this law would be to split it between Public Works and the Police Department."

Police and Public Works officials testified in support of the change.

Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson brought up damage to St. Croix’s Mahogany Road near a gravel pit and rock crusher, where the road was of poor quality already, but there was also heavy machinery, asking how responsibility for the cost of repairs should be handled.

Public Works Commissioner Gustav James said that was not a violation because the road should have been able to take the weight. "That road went so many years without maintenance," James said.

Nelson agreed. "When you put raw pitch on raw earth that is going to be a problem,” he said, adding later, “I’m not an engineer but I know you need some sort of foundation."

Rivera-O’Reilly said grant anticipation bonds will be used for repairs to Mahogany Road and Ham’s Bluff and, if the territory is spending that kind of money, "you need to revisit that crusher’s activities."

James said, "That is correct," adding that his solution is to build the road so that it is able to handle the trucks, rather than trying to restrict the activities of the existing rock crusher.

Who is responsible for repairing that damaged road has been of local concern for several years. In 2012, then VING Adjutant General Renaldo Rivera told the Senate they would make sure the road was repaired. But he also said the road was badly damaged in part because it had recently been repaved improperly. (See Related Links below)

Not long after the road was repaved in 2007, other parts of the road slid off the underlying roadbed, folding up much like a rug that has been pushed on a slick floor, creating a hazardous situation. The section of road by the armory was damaged far worse than the rest of the road, however.

Rivera-O’Reilly also proposed Bill 31-0163 that would clarify that anyone who damages a public road is liable for the cost of repair and potentially subject to up to a $1,000 fine. Introducing it, she clarified that the first bill would change the law for damage caused by heavy machinery, while the second had to do with any other damage or interference with road use.

Asked how often this problem comes up, James said that when contractors request permission to put utilities in the road, arrangements for repair are made and carried out.

But "our biggest problem," James said, is when a utility digs up a road for emergency repairs, and does not get permits first. Then the repair does not always happen properly, he said.

The committee also approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes to establish a licensing board for fiber optic technicians.

There are companies training fiber optics installers here in the territory, and making sure those doing the work have proper training and licensing will give those installers the best shot of getting the jobs that are available, Sanes said.

It will also make sure the work is done by someone who is actually trained to do it and enable those certified in the USVI to qualify for that work elsewhere, if they move, he said.

Ana Foster, the owner of Netwave Unlimited Services, a local fiber optic cable installation company, testified in support. She recounted one instance, anecdotally, where a company spent over $100,000 on a major installation, going back again and again to try to figure out why it was not working, only to ultimately find out that the operator had joined two incompatible fibers together. Licensing trained technicians would make this sort of difficulty less likely, she said.

Nathalie Hodge, who oversees licensing boards at the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, also testified in support.

Rivera-O’Reilly asked if the new board will require manpower and funding.

DLCA Commissioner Devin Carrington said that "generally the board members are paid $75 per diem per meeting and that would come from the General Fund," but other than that, DLCA does not anticipate any significant cost.

Asked if the licensing boards were fully complemented with members, Carrington said, "We don’t have a full complement of any boards I think except perhaps for social work."

The committee also approved a bill from Sen. Justin Harrigan to make the Office of Veterans Affairs responsible for placing plaques for and engraving the names of V.I. military members killed in service on V.I. monuments.

Harrigan said responsibility was not clear in the law and, as a result, some of those killed in service had not yet been memorialized.

All the measures were voted out of committee and on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee without opposition. Voting yes on each measure were Roach, Sanes, Harrigan and Nelson. Sens. Myron Jackson, Neville James and Janette Millin Young were absent.

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