WAPA threatens to cut off power to Luis Hospital

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The V.I. Water and Power Authority says it will cut off power and water service to "non-critical" areas of Luis Hospital on St. Croix if the facility does not start paying down its past-due balance of more than $3.4 million.

Meeting Friday on St. Croix, WAPA board members said the targeted areas would not include the emergency room, but they could include warehouses or administrative offices.

WAPA spokeswoman Cassandra Dunn said she knows of no law or contractual obligation that would prevent WAPA from disconnecting the hospital's power.

"If you don't pay, you're disconnected," she said. "There's no exemption if you're a hospital or you're the Department of Ed."

V.I. Senate President Ronald Russell said he did not know if there was a provision in the V.I. Code that prevents WAPA from disconnecting power to a hospital, but he said that if there is not he will push for one to be passed.

"It's unconscionable," Russell said. "It is worse than that, because they may be risking lives that require power."

Russell said interrupting the hospital's electricity will affect the health and safety of his community.

"That is why maybe there shouldn't be a WAPA board, and power and electricity should come back to the central government, so that could never happen," he said.

WAPA representatives framed the issue in terms of its bottom line. Chief Financial Officer Joseph Boschulte said WAPA has exhausted its $20 million line of credit. It also is owed large sums of money from other agencies: The V.I. Education Department owes $1.7 million; the V.I. Health Department owes $1.2 million; and the V.I. Finance Department owes $7.2 million for streetlights, WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr. said.

Board members directed WAPA staff to request a meeting with the hospital's recently hired CEO Jeff Nelson, give the hospital a new 45-day deadline to start payments and move toward cutting off water and power service if the deadline passes unheeded.

Nelson could not be reached until Monday, his office staff said late Friday afternoon.

WAPA's finance team will meet with the governor March 11 to discuss the central government's outstanding balances, Hodge said.

The board also reported out of executive session that it will support a change to existing legislation to facilitate a greater role for WAPA in the Public Finance Authority's broadband expansion project.

"WAPA has fiber-optics, so we'll be able to contribute that to the project," Dunn said.

Board members Juanita Young, Noel Loftus, Gerald Groner, Donald Francois, Cheryl Boynes-Jackson, V.I. Licensing and Consumer Affairs Chairman Wayne Biggs and V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources Acting Commissioner Alicia Barnes attended the meeting. Brenda Benjamin and V.I. Personnel Services Director Kenneth Hermon Jr. were excused.

In other action, the board:

- Approved the purchase and installation of a continuous monitoring emission system for Units 22 and 23 and the Randolph Harley Power Plant on St. Thomas at a cost not to exceed $386,532.

- Approved a change order to extend by 29 working days the completion date of the pressure management Phase 1 project. Once it is finished, the project should improve the efficiency of WAPA's water-distribution system by regulating high water pressures and reducing water losses, according to a staff report.

- Approved an extension of WAPA's contract with Wood Group to complete the major inspection and repair work on Unit 23. The project, now is set to be completed by June 23, according to a staff report. The 5-year-old, 42-megawatt gas turbine is WAPA's newest and largest generator on St. Thomas. On Sept. 13, Unit 23 shook so hard it shut down. A routine overhaul of the unit and repairs had already been scheduled, so crews left the unit offline until parts arrived on St. Thomas and the work could be done.

However, when the overhaul was 87 percent finished, technicians from the Wood Group, the gas turbine specialists contracted for the scheduled inspection and repair, discovered additional problems - faults in the generator field and stator bars - that required extra work beyond the scope that was initially laid out in the contract, according to WAPA officials.

- Authorized payment of an additional $13,320 to Apex Construction Company for the extra expenses it incurred while reconfiguring underground cables. The board also extended the project contract by 40 days.

- Approved a change order to the Richmond Tank rehabilitation project on St. Croix that extended it by 21 working days and increased its total cost by $100,797; the project's new completion date is July 30.

- Approved a change order to the mixed oxidant chlorine generation system project that increased its cost by $10,886 and added seven days to the project.

- Contact Karen Hollish at 774-8772 ext. 304 or e-mail khollish@dailynews.vi.

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