Senators speedily clear path for St. Croix desalination plant
Published: September 19, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - At the tail end of Tuesday's Senate session, a lease for the V.I. Water and Power Authority was placed on the agenda and approved.
The Senate entered into Committee of the Whole for a short period to take testimony from WAPA officials about the need for the expedited lease approval.
WAPA Chief Operating Officer Gregory Rhymer said the lease is required for the authority to build a new, more efficient water production facility on St. Croix.
Currently on St. Croix, the authority uses the same technology to turn seawater into potable water that it has since 1970. Rhymer said under the existing system, it costs the authority $17 per 1,000 gallons of water. WAPA has entered into a contract with Seven Seas to build and operate a water plant on St. Croix that will cost $6 per 1,000 gallons, Rhymer said.
All of the savings will be passed onto the consumer, he said.
"We're trying ways every day to minimize costs to our customers," Rhymer said.
The lease is for two parcels, totalling 2 acres, of submerged and filled land, which under the V.I. Code belongs to the government and requires a lease agreement ratified by the Senate.
The property already is being used by WAPA, one parcel for a parking lot and a submerged parcel for a water outtake pipe, Rhymer said. The land is adjacent to the existing plant.
According to the lease, the annual rent would be $112,319.46. The lease is between WAPA and the V.I. Planning and Natural Resources Department.
Sen. Craig Barshinger asked why the lease was being considered in such a rushed manner.
"Why was there no hearings on this?" he said.
DPNR Division of Coastal Zone Management Director Jean-Pierre Oriol told senators the law provides for a process to consider a lease on a public exigency basis, bypassing some of the time limits and hearings required under the normal procedure. He said the department determined the matter was worthy of the expedited process.
The Legislature's legal counsel, Yvonne Tharpes, said she had doubts.
"I really believe that their actions can be challenged," she said.
Rhymer said WAPA completed an Environmental Assessment Report, along with a detailed design of the project, and submitted it to DPNR.
He said the lease is needed right away to reduce the cost of water to consumers and to avoid a crisis similar to what happened on St. Thomas earlier this year, where the water system broke down and customers were without water for weeks.
"We have infrastructure in place that is continually deteriorating," he said.
Not all senators were convinced that the lease approval had to happen Tuesday night.
"The emergency, it sounds speculative to me," Sen. Ronald Russell said.
The lease was approved by Sen. Carlton Dowe, Sen. Alicia Hansen, Sen. Louis Hill, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Sen. Usie Richards, Sen. Sammuel Sanes, Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Sen. Celestino White Sr., and Sen. Janette Millin Young.
Sen. Craig Barshinger, Sen. Neville James, Sen. Terrence Nelson, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly and Sen. Ronald Russell voted against the lease.
Sen. Alvin Williams Jr. was absent from Tuesday's session.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.