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Senators Positive on New Building Codes

DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol answers senators’ questions about permits and code enforcement.(Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

Members of the Committee on Disaster Recovery, Infrastructure, and Planning had no objections Tuesday to a bill updating the V.I. building code.

The bill would adopt nationally recognized standards designed to be “in the best interests of the territory and to provide clarifications to the Virgin Islands building code.”

The seven members in attendance all voted to move the bill forward to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Several senators used the occasion to call attention to specific permitting issues they or people they have met have encountered.

Sen. Milton Potter, who chairs the committee, said he had heard from a resident whose neighbor was building an illegal wall and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources was not doing anything to stop the activity.

Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger brought up her own situation when she had to go to the house of an inspector to get him moving on the permitting process.

DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol testified that his department now has eight inspectors on St. Croix and eight on St. Thomas, and five or six years ago, there were only four on each island. He added that the inspectors were being cross-trained to do various permit inspections.

Potter asked if the new codes would increase construction costs in the territory. Oriol answered, “No.”

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, introducing the bill, said the codes had not been updated since 2010 and did not reflect what the government learned from the hurricanes of 2017.

Oriol said his department fully supported the bill. In his prepared testimony, he wrote,” If we think back to 30 years ago when Hurricane Marilyn was bearing down on these islands, the standards required that we consider wind speeds of 110 mph. Over the last six years, since the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, there have been 27 Category 3 or higher storms in the Atlantic, which means sustained winds of 111 mph or higher. Recognizing the changing climate, it was important for us to adopt a higher wind standard of 165 mph for our structures.”

Sens. Capehart, Francis Heyliger, Kenneth Gittens, Marise James, Franklin Johnson, Carla Joseph, and Potter voted to forward the bill.

In a press release announcing the passage of the bill, Frett-Gregory said, “This measure ensures we are at the forefront of safer building standards that protect life and property, not in the rear.”

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