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Report Highlights Three Years of Putting V.I. Together Again

Work on the Juan F. Luis modular hospital nears completion. (Photo from the Road to Recovery 2020 Progress Report)

U.S. resources,
And women and men,
Try putting the V.I.
Back together again.

Humpty Dumpty’s nursery rhyme friends faced no bigger challenge than do the local and federal officials working to rebuild the Virgin Islands’ infrastructure after it was shattered by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.

A report issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the V.I. Office of Disaster Recovery touts the progress made so far while emphasizing there is a long way to go.

The federal government has promised more than $8 billion for the task. As the third year since the hurricanes comes to a close, $1.5 billion of that sum has actually been expended, according to the Road to Recovery 2020 Progress Report. Another $5 billion is “already allocated” to specific projects and the remaining $3.5 billion is “obligated.”

Much of the work is not obvious to those who aren’t directly involved because it concerns planning and design approvals rather than construction.

Listed in the report as “major accomplishments” during Year 3 are:
– FEMA approval for the industry standards that the V.I. proposed for educational facilities, health care facilities, water, wastewater, communications and emergency services. This means the territory can rebuild facilities for these services better than they were before the hurricanes, as provided in the congressional Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.
– V.I. Department of Public Works received FEMA approval to reconstruct roads in accordance with federal standards, which should make them safer and more durable.

Repair of an Estate Mafolie retaining wall on St. Thomas represents part of millions of dollars worth of road work undertaken as part of hurricane disaster recovery. (Photo from the Road to Recovery 2020 Progress Report)

– Masterplans were completed for the public school system and homes for the aged. Human Services will convert its two long-term care facilities to skilled nursing facilities for the elderly. Education will consolidate some schools and modernize the new facilities.
– FEMA approved the replacement of the Vincent Mason Frederiksted Pool, the Bureau of Corrections Swan Annex on St. Thomas, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles building on St. Thomas and the Arthur A. Richards School on St. Croix. Several other campuses are also under consideration for full replacement.
– Design funds were approved for the upgrade and expansion of generators at the Harley Power Plant on St. Thomas.
– Design funds were approved for the reconstruction of two major roadways, Northside Road on St. Croix and Donoe Bypass on St. Thomas.
– Hundreds of homes are expected to be repaired or replaced with Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds; work was completed on seven of them in the past year.
– As part of a $10 million grant from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources issued $655,000 to fishers impacted by the storms.
– Construction repairs continue on Government House on St. Thomas.
– The temporary modular hospital for St. Croix is expected to be complete by December.

The $8 billion figure is six times the size of the local government’s annual budget, prompting concerns about its capacity to manage that much in addition to handling ongoing operations.

To assuage federal fears, the U.S. Interior Department funded the creation of the V.I. Office of Disaster Recovery with a $3 million grant. Housed under the V.I. Public Finance Authority, the office has 15 staff and oversees the operations of the FEMA Public Assistance program and the Hazard Mitigation Grant program.

Two consultants, Witt O’Brien’s and Ernst & Young, work with the Office of Disaster Recovery. And the office also hired Springline Architects to support the local Public Works Department in reviewing and signing off on all the design works for capital projects.

While a lot of design and plan work is expected to continue well into the next year, the report predicts that a lot of construction will begin in 2021 and some will be completed.

Among a myriad of projections for fiscal year 2021 are:
– Completed construction on the Estate Adrian Center on St. John,
– Demolition of the five public housing buildings in Estate Tutu and beginning of Phase II Tutu construction and of the Donoe Redevelopment project,
– Construction underway of upgrades of airports on St. Croix and St. Thomas,
– Full restoration of the territory’s tsunami warning system and plans are in the works for emergency operations centers on all three islands,
– Repairs “advancing” on the territory’s prison facilities, and
– Construction underway on the St. John Community Center, Charles A. Seales Fire Station, Fleming House, St. Croix Agriculture office and fairgrounds, the WIC building on St. Croix and the DPNR office on St. John.

The above projects, and more, are expected to generate $39 million in gross receipts taxes for the territory in 2021, according to the Office of Disaster Recovery, and stimulate the general economy even more. The hope, as expressed in the report, is that the activity will go a long way to offset losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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