V.I. seeks FEMA extension for Main Street project
Published: January 7, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. government is seeking an extension from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a long-awaited infrastructure project on Main Street in downtown Charlotte Amalie.
The one-year extension would allow the government to avoid beginning construction during the height of tourist season in the run-up to a March 18 deadline to complete the work, according to a press release issued last week by Gov. John deJongh Jr.
Sonny Beauchamp, a hazard mitigation coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Region II Caribbean Area Division, on Friday confirmed that FEMA received the request last week and said it was under review. Beauchamp indicated FEMA likely will grant the extension.
"What really matters here is how beneficial it will be to have this project completed," Beauchamp said. Beauchamp said there is no deadline to spend the money that will fund the project - it is a 75-25 split between the federal and local government - and that the V.I. government could expect a formal decision by the end of the month.
The FEMA funding comes from a 2009 grant worth $1.6 million to the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, according to a 2009 press release from VITEMA. The grant is supposed to allow the V.I. Water and Power Authority to bury its overhead electric cables underground along Main Street in the area of Raadets Gade, Hibiscus Alley, Veterans Drive, Tolbod Gade and Post Office Alley, according Government House.
The government now intends to dovetail the project with a pending Main Street project by the V.I. Public Works Department and the Federal Highway Administration. The Public Works project will involve reconstructing downtown infrastructure, including electrical, storm- and wastewater, telecommunications and data components, as well as rebuilding roadways and sidewalks, along Main Street.
The WAPA project was slated to begin this month to ensure completion by the March 18 deadline, and the Public Works project was scheduled to start in May, according to the release.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. did not return a call for comment on why the WAPA project had not been completed prior to the current tourist season.
WAPA officials agreed to pursue pushing back the time line to avoid interfering with Main Street businesses during the territory's peak tourist season and to avoid unnecessary redundancy in downtown road work, according to the release.
"They're trying to do a joint venture instead of having to break the roads twice," Beauchamp said.
DeJongh said in the release that the request is also "to prevent the Main Street shopping mecca in downtown Charlotte Amalie from being disrupted by construction two times in as many tourist seasons."
Merchants around the Market Square section of Main Street, which has been under construction since September 2011, are well aware of the impact construction can have.
"We've been cut off from the time construction started," said Cheyelle Grave, of Dorothy's Restaurant, which is past the orange construction barricades at the east end of Market Square. "Tourists used to come down here. They'd wander up, you know? It's hurting business real bad, so we've been suffering for that."
The underground-utilities project has been on the government's radar since it applied for the FEMA funds in March 2008, and FEMA has previously granted an extension on the project, but Beauchamp said he did not anticipate those factors would cause a problem for the new extension request.
"It would not make sense for us to stop the project now just because now we have another agency that would like to be involved in the project, too," Beauchamp said. "As long as the project continues to be cost-effective and to meet all the federal and territorial permitting requirements - if it meets 100 percent of those criteria, we pretty much will approve it."
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.