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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, December 5, 2022
HomeNewsLocal newsV.I. Agriculture Requests Help at USDA Meeting

V.I. Agriculture Requests Help at USDA Meeting

This May 2020 photo shows the first virtual meeting of stakeholders of the NRCS Caribbean area meeting, which drew some 43 USVI partners and more than 70 other stakeholders. Thursday’s meeting was virtually attended by about 30 people. (Screenshot provided by Julie Wright and NRCS)

Officials of the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture asked for technical and financial assistance to rebuild the Bordeaux Water Treatment Plant from federal Agriculture officials and the Natural Resources Conservation Service at the USVI State Technical Committee meeting on Thursday.

Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Dianna Callwood told the group of around 30 stakeholders taking part in the online meeting that in 2018 the U.S. Department of the Interior gave the V.I. Agriculture Department a $185,000 grant to rehabilitate the water treatment plant on St. Thomas.

“The amount of the grant was grossly underestimated,” she said.

The first bid estimate to rebuild the Bordeaux system was $300,000, and the second quote was $700,000.

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In addition to renovating the water plant, area dams and wells need to be inspected, maintained and some dredged, she said. It should be a bigger project with more funding and a feasibility study. The grant expires in September 2021.

Agriculture Commissioner Positive T.A. Nelson agreed, adding that just building the cistern does not solve the problem and would be a waste of grant money – especially without consideration made for how water would get to and from the cistern.

Callwood asked if the committee would collaborate with the Virgin Islands to build a water system and perhaps “create a portfolio of funding for different aspects of this project.”

Luis Cruz-Arroyo, director of the Caribbean region’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, was told there is a preliminary design for the system that is available to share with the committee.

“I think there might be a place for us and there might be a place for Rural Development. We’ll look into it and can see if we can assist financially and technically,” Cruz-Arroyo said.

He added that the department should keep moving ahead on the project, because “we don’t want any money that impacts our islands to go away.”

In another project affecting the U.S. Virgin Islands, Magaly Figueroa-Vazguez, state and private forestry program manager for the U.S. Forest Service/International Institute of Tropical Forestry, said a nursery rehabilitation project should be completed in September – later than planned. Due to COVID-19, shipping delays and limited air travel, the nurseries were constructed on Puerto Rico and will be shipped to St. Croix and St. Thomas for installation.

Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol also participated in the meeting. His department recently sent eight proposal requests for watershed and flood mitigation, farming and food security. He said he will volunteer a couple of staff members to serve on those subcommittees to facilitate the projects.

Before the subcommittees reported, Cruz-Arroyo said the committee is working on 11 contracts for the U.S. Virgin Islands totaling $183,000. He said $67,000 has been paid out, so far.

In other committee reports:

– 31 of 35 emergency watershed protection programs in the territory have been completed, as well as five of 122 projects to stabilize the earth against landslides. Additionally, three sponsors on Puerto Rico have requested help with cleanup after Tropical Storm Isaias. In another study, research is being conducted on wetlands and food security;

– Conservation practices and disciplines are being updated to reflect new standards and requirements; and

– A team of soil scientists are working to inventory and detail 1,000 acres of wetlands in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They are also evaluating the effects, if any, of acid sulfate discharge in low lying areas.

The State Technical Committee advises NRCS and other agencies of the USDA to help implement natural resources conservation provisions of the Farm Bill. Committees are made up of members from federal and state agencies with a variety of natural resources and agricultural interests. The committee provides information, analysis and recommendations to NRCS/USDA officials.

During the meeting, Cruz-Arroyo said more members were needed for the committee and subcommittees, as well as sponsors due to the scope and amount of hurricane cleanup and mitigation. Sponsors are local government agencies with a legal interest in the project’s work. They take requests from landowners for grants and services, complete the necessary paperwork and send it to the USDA for implementation.

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