Sequester will cost V.I. nearly $6.5 million this year
Published: March 9, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Bureau of Economic Research has issued revised estimates of sequestration budget cuts to the territory's federally funded programs.
However, many local departments reported that they were still awaiting guidance from federal agencies as to how to implement the cuts.
An updated analysis of federal cuts to Virgin Islands departments from Wharton Berger, director of the Bureau of Economic Research, shows the territory will lose $6,488,560 in Fiscal Year 2013.
Initial estimates were for about $10 million, which likely will be how much the territory loses annually from 2014 to 2021 should the sequestration cuts remain in effect that long.
In a written statement, Gov. John deJongh Jr. expressed concern about the impact to the tourism industry and outlined a number of environmental programs run by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources that will be negatively impacted by sequestration.
"These cuts could not have come at a worse time, given the increased number of visitors that we expect to see in the territory as we enter peak travel season," deJongh said in the statement.
As the federal budget cuts continue, the first real impacts the Virgin Islands can expect to see are longer wait times for travelers, delays in shipments and reduced hours at National Park Service facilities.
However, in many cases, it remains unclear when those impacts will materialize.
On March 2, Deputy Director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection David Aguilar sent a letter to government agencies and trade and travel industry personnel stating that the 14 days of furlough to Customs officers, withdrawal of overtime and a hiring freeze mandated by sequestration would "equate to the loss of several thousand CBP officers at our ports of entry, in addition to significant cuts to our operating budgets and programs."
The furloughs will be implemented beginning next month, with each Customs officer expected to take two days a month of unpaid leave.
Aguilar warned that wait times at major airports would increase by 50 percent, or three to four hours.
The letter also warned of "decreased service levels in our cargo operations, including increased and potentially escalating delays for container examinations of up to 5 days or more at major seaports."
"It's going to have a devastating impact in terms of how quickly we process not only goods but passengers," V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe said.
Dowe said Thursday he was still awaiting instructions from the Federal Aviation Administration as to whether air traffic controllers would be furloughed or have their hours cut, which could impact the hours of operation of the towers at the King and Rohlsen airports. Neither airport's tower was on the list of 173 control towers that could potentially be closed because of sequestration.
A spokeswoman for Crowley Maritime Corporation, Amelia Smith, said it is "too early to tell" whether the company, one of two that handle imports and exports for the territory, would raise its rates if furloughs for Customs officers slow operations and cause delays.
"These shortages may impact our ability to service our customers temporarily, but, because we are a private company, we are able to do things internally to help. We are an organization that stretches as we need to," Smith said.
The National Park Service announced that the visitor center at the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve on St. Croix would be open only one day of the week: Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The limited hours will be in effect until June 15, when the park closes for the season.
Also, the parking lot at the Christiansted National Historic Site will be closing early. The lot will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Both changes are the result of a 5 percent reduction in funding that sequestration imposed on the National Park Service, according to a press release from St. Croix National Park Service Superintendent Joel Tutein.
Lisa Hamilton, president of the Virgin Islands Hotel and Tourism Association, said she was as concerned by the restrictions to National Park Service facilities as by the increased wait times at airports.
The association still is trying to figure out what, if anything, it could do to alleviate the situation. She said she could not say how much money in tourism dollars could be lost because of the inconveniences potentially imposed on travelers.
"It's too premature to even speculate on that," Hamilton said.
In a letter to DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes, the Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Judith Enck, listed the following environmental programs that will be negatively impacted by the cuts: beach protection; nonpoint source pollution; pesticides enforcement; pesticides program implementation; pollution control; public water system supervision; air quality management; underground injection control; drinking water infrastructure assistance and the Brownsfield response program.
Barnes did not return calls to The Daily News for this story.
According to Berger's latest analysis, DPNR will lose a total of $567,021 for fiscal year 2013.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.Government agency Federal grants Sequester amount 2013 Grant budget
Board of Education $1,000,000 $50,000 $950,000
Bureau of Corrections $400,000 $0 $400,000
Planning and Natural Resources $11,340,415 $567,021 $10,773,394
Human Services $44,922,726 $1,056,648 $43,866,078
Agriculture $270,000 $13,500 $256,500
Education $38,622,187 $1,605,783 $37,016,404
Health $17,867,057 $893,353 $16,973,704
Justice $5,315,081 $265,754 $5,049,327
Labor $7,346,887 $259,958 $7,089,929
Public Works $21,620,468 $980,223 $20,640,245
Emergency Management $2,309,301 $115,465 $2,193,836
Adjutant General $5,354,486 $417,650 $4,936,836
Governor $262,202 $13,110 $249,092
Lt. Governor $41,275 $2,064 $39,211
Police Department $4,960,637 $248,032 $4,712,605