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V.I. HAS COURT DATE ON SEWER REPAIRS CONTRACT

Jan. 24, 2003 – The V.I. government is under orders to show up in federal court next week to make its arguments as to why a $3.6 million contract awarded to a local start-up company for major sewer repair work on St. Croix should be upheld.
District Court Judge Thomas K. Moore scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Thursday on St. Thomas after the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a motion alleging that the governor declared the territory's sewer systems in a "state of emergency" so he could fraudulently bypass the normal competitive bidding process in contracting for the repair work.
On Dec. 30, the government gave the contract to Global Resources Management Inc. Among those connected with the firm are St. Croix lawyer Ashley Andrews and Esdel Hansen, husband of former senator and unsuccessful 2002 gubernatorial candidate Alicia "Chucky" Hansen.
The motion filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office also names Ohanio Harris, special assistant to the governor, as president of Global Resources Management until March 8, 2002, when, it states, Andrews took on the title of president. Harris has denied any involvement in the company.
The motion highlights that the company has "no equipment, no assets and no experience in heavy civil construction."
"Given its paucity of assets, short life span prior to being awarded this contract, and apparent lack of similar experience," the motion reads, "it confounds the imagination how GRM Inc. could be selected to complete a difficult and dangerous construction project with a value of over $3.6 million."
In response to media reports about the motion, the governor hastily called a "press briefing" Friday afternoon at which, reading a prepared statement, he denied having staged an emergency to avoid competitive bidding. He said he has issued four emergency proclamations for wastewater repairs, the last three of which were extensions of the first, on Oct. 9, 2001.
Calling the federal allegations "simply wrong," Turnbull said the emergency declaration to address the territory's aging sewage system infrastructure was "certainly not new."
Moore, in December 2001, ordered the V.I. government to complete specific projects and repairs to the wastewater system by mid-2002. Many of those orders are included in the specifications of the contract awarded to Global Resources.
For background on Moore's directives and the V.I. government's responses, see the October 2001 report "Governor vows to 'micromanage' sewage system".
The motion filed on Thursday said that Moore's December 2001 order anticipated "immediate, good faith efforts" by the local government to complete the work. Instead, it reads, the specified work on St. Croix received no attention for nine months, until the proclamation of an emergency.
"My administration has been diligently working to repair the wastewater system and make court-ordered repairs since the year 2000," Turnbull said on Friday. He said that "significant strides" have been made.
He said such progress has been possible because of the emergency proclamations allowing the hiring of contractors without going through a long process involved in competitive bidding. "This allows the government to move forward on projects without delay," he said.
Forgoing competitive bidding could "create a situation where suggestion and innuendo could be made over certain companies retained under the proclamation," Turnbull acknowledged. "But I assure you this contract was procured with the best interests of the citizens of the Virgin Islands at stake," he said.
The federal government first called for the revamping of the territory's wastewater system in 1984. Various compliance orders have been issued, including one on Dec. 19 outlining the seven sewer projects included in GRM's contract.
That the Public Works commissioner ignored the order, the motion filed on Thursday states, is no reason to allow the Public Works Department now to declare the contract a "public exigency."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Azekah Jennings said on Friday that the V.I. government must file a response to the motion by noon Wednesday. He would not comment on the case, except to say that more information will be forthcoming at the Thursday hearing.

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