April 3, 2003 – Expressing concern over adequate funding, the director of the Office of Management and Budget has declined to release $2.5 million for the construction of two utility projects on St. John. Meanwhile, the head of the Water and Power Authority says there may be alternative approaches that would eliminate the need for one of the projects.
The $2.5 million was set aside to build a WAPA water plant in Cruz Bay and a substation in Coral Bay several years ago. Senator-at-Large Almando "Rocky" Liburd wrote to OMB's director, Ira Mills, last month, asking that the money be released from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund so the work could get under way.
Mills said he turned down Liburd's request after talking to WAPA officials. He pointed out that the cost of building a new water plant was estimated back in 1991. The plant then was projected to cost $1.8 million and the purchase of land to build it on, an additional $200,000.
That being the case, "the level of appropriation will only address the water plant and not the substation in Coral Bay," Mills said in an April 1 letter to Liburd. Mills noted that the substation plan "has only been discussed," with "no concrete quotation or plans" presented.
Discussion of the new water plant comes at a time when WAPA's production capability on St. John has been outstripped by customer demand, according to its executive director, Alberto Bruno Vega. But he said on Thursday that it may be possible to supply more water without undertaking additional construction.
A presentation of alternatives is scheduled for the April 24 meeting of the WAPA governing board. The options are "still in the discussion phase," Bruno said.
He said that he, too, has written to the Office of Management and Budget, laying out a plan that would require the use of some set-aside funds.
As an alternative to building a new water plant, Bruno said, he would rather use the funds to lay an undersea pipeline from Red Hook on St. Thomas to St. John's Turner Bay as part of a larger plan to expand water service to the eastern end of St. Thomas.
Because Bruno sent his request for funds on Wednesday, he said, Mills probably hadn't seen it as of Thursday.
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