ST CROIX, USVI — Eight members of Congress and several administration officials visited St Croix in order to assess the damage to the US Virgin Islands and the ongoing recovery effort.
The territory requires the help of Congress in order to rebuild a stronger and more resilient infrastructure, Governor Kenneth Mapp said on Sunday.
Speaking to a visiting congressional delegation representing the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the governor said that more resources are required than provided for under current laws.
“If there is one thing I ask, it’s that you seriously consider amending the Stafford Act,” Mapp said. “We don’t just need to rebuild, we need more mitigation and to rebuild for the future.”
The Stafford Act affords assistance to rebuild in the event of a disaster, but not necessarily to make any improvements. The governor is pushing hard to allow enough funding to improve existing infrastructure, particularly the electrical system. He told the members of the committee it will cost $380 million to rebuild the USVI’s electrical system and $850 million to rebuild a system that is much more impervious to storms.
The governor is pushing to have all primary and secondary lines buried underground, to create microgrids and to develop more renewable energy sources.
He said such an electrical system would allow the territory to get quickly on its feet in the event of future disasters, prevent economic disruption and greatly reduce the distress to residents caused by prolonged power outages.
Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) director, Julio Rhymer, and Energy Office director, Elmo Roebuck, echoed the governor’s sentiments. Rhymer told the congressional delegation WAPA advocates both burying lines and the use of composite, rather than regular wooden, electrical poles as, although they are more expensive, they are built to withstand 200 mile per hour winds.
“We want to build a hardened system,” Rhymer said.
Mapp also requested that Congress allow for more flexibility in the use of Federal Highway Funds. He explained that as a territory, rather than a state, the US Virgin Islands was limited in the amount of emergency funds it could be granted by the US Department of Transportation and that it would cost upwards of $3 million just to repair the islands’ traffic lights.
Mapp’s messages resonated with members of the congressional delegation.
“These formulas have to change so you are treated like states,” said Ranking Committee Member Frank Pallone, who helped lead New Jersey’s long recovery from Hurricane Sandy. “It’s not only important that we are here today, but that we follow up.”
Committee chairman, Greg Walden, said that Congress had learned much as a result of the US Virgin Islands recovery effort.
“My biggest take away here is – let’s build it back right,” Walden said. “God bless you for hanging in there during this real hard time…Thank you for your level of leadership.”