WAPA representatives were at times defensive and defiant in their remarks, arguing that their often-maligned reputation in the territory is ill deserved.
Vernon Alexander, WAPA’s director of special projects, called the event “an auspicious occasion.”
“At a time when all the negative things are going on in our society, at a time when people are looking to crucify the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority, we can tell the public we have a lot of good things going on here,” Alexander said.
Executive Director Hugo Hodge continued this theme in his remarks, drawing an analogy between the work of the authority and the lessons he imparts to the little league football team he coaches.
“There’s a lot of trash talking that goes on in sports, and I always tell the kids that we’re not going to talk back to the next team. We’re going to let our talking be heard on the field when we’re playing,” he said.
“The same thing goes for the Water and Power Authority,” he continued. “We don’t have to talk when we hear all the negative comments we hear in the field. This is how we speak. We speak by putting out projects.”
Hodge then went on to thank his employees and the contractors involved with the projects for their efforts.
All five of the projects being celebrated Wednesday were completed over the last two years.
The largest of these projects was the upgrading of the Estate Richmond Substation, which was funded by a bond issued in 2010 for $12.2 million.
Upgrading the substation is the first part in multi-phase plan to more efficiently distribute electricity around St. Croix. In the future, the substation will be linked to a second substation in Estate Spanish Town by a 69kV transmission line.
WAPA says that when complete, the new distribution system will be more reliable, easier to expand and will decrease the authority’s “line loss,” energy lost in transmission.
The substation upgrade was completed in January 2012. WAPA reports that they are currently designing the Estate Spanish Town station.
The authority also celebrated the restoration of the 10 million-gallon water tank at Estate Richmond. Built in 1967, the tank was found to be significantly corroded during an inspection in 2007.
WAPA received a Drinking Water Capital Improvement Grant for nearly $1.7 million to replace much of the plating and to recoat the exterior and interior. The project was completed in May 2011, one month ahead of schedule.
Also funded through the drinking water grant, WAPA installed a mixed-oxidant chlorination generation system that generates chlorine for use as a disinfectant from water and salt.
The project was completed in February 2011 at the cost of $300,000. WAPA reports that in the 18 months it has been operational, they have saved $15,000 by not having to buy or store calcium hypochlorite, the disinfectant they previously used.
The Richmond Standpipe Building was also upgraded at the cost of $174,345 paid from WAPA’s internal funds. The building was renovated and slightly expanded in order to create new office space and to accommodate the newly installed control system for the Richmond Pump Station.
The project was completed in December 2011.
The final project celebrated at the event was the completion of the first phase of the project to bury the electrical wires in Christiansted. The ongoing project seeks to boost the electrical system’s reliability and shorten the time it takes to restore power after heavy storms.
Phase I was completed in June 2010. Phase II is scheduled to begin later this year.
After participating contractors were recognized at the celebration, Hodge unveiled a new helmet decal system for WAPA employees. Workers will now receive specially designed decals to place on their hard hats for every project they work on.
“Our goal is before many of us see our last days here to have a hard hat where we’re looking for room for the next decal,” he said.
Asked whether the event was meant to be a message to the authority’s detractors, WAPA Governing Board Chairman Gerald Groner said it was not. He said the day was meant to honor the hard work of the authority’s employees.
“These are benchmarks. They’re big steps with a lot of money, a lot of work,” he said. “They’re big steps in improving the system, so they deserve this kind of celebration.”