U.S. Department of Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, Doug Domenech just completed a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
His division has responsibility for relations with the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and the USVI. It also oversees an array of federal grants benefiting the territories, and administers and oversees federal assistance under the Compacts of Free Association to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau.
According to a Department of Interior statement, this is Domenech‘s sixth trip to the USVI since his appointment in 2017. The statement says that last year, Interior’s Insular Affairs Office provided $7 million in grants to the territory and played a role in transferring the $258 million rum rebate payment to the USVI for 2018 taxes. Those are federal funds allocated based on the amount of federal excise tax paid on distilled liquor produced in the territory, primarily by Cruzan Rum and the Diageo rum distillery on St. Croix. The USVI gives about half that money, or roughly $129 million, to those two distilleries as a cash subsidy. Most of the remainder pays principal and interest on V.I. government debt secured by those funds.
This trip was reportedly a follow-up to Governor Albert Bryan Jr.’s recent visit with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in Washington, D.C.
While on St. Croix, Domenech met with FEMA Field Office Director Jacqueline Heyliger to discuss the status of recovery projects and funding. Over $6 billion has been allocated to the recovery and over $2.6 billion has been outlaid, according to the Interior Department.
He also met with V.I. Water and Power Authority Executive Director Lawrence Kupfer. Their discussions reportedly centered around WAPA’s recovery, ways the Department of the Interior can continue to help and plans to increase reliability and reduce the cost of electricity. In 2018, OIA provided $178,996, to supplement millions of dollars in FEMA assistance to repair damage to WAPA’s electricity distribution and billing system following hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The Interior Department reports Domenech also met with St. Croix Chamber of Commerce Chairman Ryan Nelthropp of Marshall & Sterling Insurance, and Leon Hughes of NEARiX. They discussed the status of business recovery on St. Croix and ways to work together to build economic development for the island.
And he met with Greg Camacho, acting superintendent of National Park sites on St. Croix. They discussed recovery plans and projects at Salt River, Buck Island and Fort Christiansted.
While on St. Thomas, Domenech met with Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol. They discussed recovery issues, possible funding opportunities from Insular Affairs and plans for next year’s U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting.
He also met with members of the V.I. Legislature and Lisa Hamilton, president of the USVI Hotel and Tourism Association, to discuss the status of the recovery of the hotel sector.
Domenech is now off for a stop in Puerto Rico.