Feb. 19, 2003 – Presentation of a legal opinion on the controversial purchase of St. Croix land by the Water and Power Authority from Devcon in 2000 was on the agenda for Wednesday's board meeting but was postponed due to delay in its preparation.
At its Jan. 31 meeting, WAPA's board chair, Carol Burke, had said that because the land transaction was made without board approval, it would not go forward. "The law prohibits WAPA from selling property without board approval," she said then, adding that a letter had been sent to Devcon outlining the board's position. (See "WAPA board looking to lay blame for purchase".)
At that meeting, Burke asked WAPA board counsel Arturo Watlington to prepare an opinion on the issue, making clear the steps to protect the authority that were not taken. Once that opinion was received, she said, the board would explore options for imposing penalties on those found responsible.
At Wednesday's meeting, on St. Thomas, Burke said Watlington had advised her that he was unable to present the opinion at that time but would have it for the board 's March meeting.
Meantime, correspondence from WAPA bond counsel Patricia A. Goins to Burke was read into the record regarding the use of 1998 bond proceeds for the acquisition of the property. Goins said the bond trustees had no record of a transaction whereby bond money was withdrawn from the construction fund for that purpose.
St. John substation projected in 9 months
In other business, WAPA's executive director, Alberto Bruno Vega, had good news for St. John residents. In nine months, he said, a new electrical substation should be completed at Turner Bay, providing residents with a reliable power source and eliminating the potential of long-lasting blackouts.
The board unanimously approved $2.8 million to Siemens Westinghouse to carry out the project. Bruno said the older of the two submarine cables between Cabrita Point on St. Thomas's East End and St. John is not in good shape, and he has asked Cable Technology Laboratory of New Jersey to come to the territory and test the cables.
Bruno said the large resorts on St. John Caneel Bay and the Westin have been very cooperative when WAPA experiences low power conditions, by going off line. Anticipating the summer load, however, he said, "We are barely scratching through."
In other business:
– Robert Vodzack, WAPA chief financial officer, presented the authority's final 2003 audit from KPMG, an unqualified audit. This year, he said, along with the individual audits for the Water and Power Divisions, a joint audit was prepared, consisting of a management discussion and analysis which summarizes the other two audits in lay terms.
Bruno said he was pleased to have the audit. He said WAPA had been "tasked" by Government House to submit the audit by mid-February so that the administration can complete its own single audit.
– Bruno commented on plans for the utility's St. Thomas administration building. He suggested locating the customer service center to a central location in downtown Charlotte Amalie so as to relieve overcrowding in the Sub Base building. He said the work environment could be improved by other offices utilize the vacated space.
– The board approved Bruno's request to modify the amount of a proposed bond issue and the related capital improvement projects to be financed, due to the need for additional funds for critical capital projects for system reliability and planned new power generation.
– The board deferred discussion of Unit 22 on St. Thomas to an executive session because of what officials said were possible legal issues that could arise from the discussion.
Attending the meeting were board members Burke, Alphonso Franklin, G. Luz James Sr., Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik and Attorney General Iver Stridiron. Claude A. Molloy Sr. left the meeting shortly after it started for another appointment, and Housing Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira M. Hobson and William Lomax were absent.
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