EDA and VIPA give updates at hearing chaired by DeGazon
The Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture chaired by Senator Allison DeGazon met on Wednesday in the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center, St. Croix with the Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) where an update was given on their operational status, Fiscal Year 2019 Budget, challenges, successes, and timeline goals.
EDA's Chief Executive Officer, Kamal Latham stated in his testimony that Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. has established an economic strategy called STEAM which stands for services, technology, energy, agriculture and manufacturing. This, he said, would guide the overall executive plan for business recruitment, business retention, and business expansion effort for the future.
According to Latham, the four pillars of EDA, Semi-autonomous Agency are the Economic Development Bank (EDB) the Economic Development Commission (EDC), the Enterprise Zone Commission (EZC), and the Economic Development Park Corporation (EDPC).
Due to the recent terminations of several employees on the island of St. Croix Latham was questioned heavily about employee morale. Senators demanded to know what process was used in determining who to fire and how raises were distributed considering the lack of a strategic plan.
Although it is estimated that the territory may realize approximately $4.5 million in income tax revenues from new applicants and a minimum of 51 jobs, Senator DeGazon noted that EDC applications and collections are down. She further proclaimed that there is an apparent disconnect from its original mandate can cautioned the CEO to ensure mandates for the Authority remained his priority.
When questioned about its plans for small businesses and agriculture development, the CEO, stated that thru the Enterprise Zone Commission the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture was awarded a $250,000 grant to fund a feasibility study
for establishing processing and packaging plants for local fruits and other agricultural products on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Committee members requested several documents from EDA through the chair to include a strategic plan, marketing plan, and information pertaining to delinquent loans.
Acting Executive Director and Director of Engineer for the Virgin Islands Port Authority, Damian Cartwright, told the committee that VIPA does not receive an annual allotment from the Government of the Virgin Islands. The major source of the Authority operating revenues added Cartwright derives from customer and rental fees charged to users of the airport and marine facilities.
Cartwright pointed out that VIPA received two grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce-Economic Development Administration totaling $27 million to improve the territories airports. The first grant will fund Phase one of CEKA Terminal Expansion Project by building a $20 million Parking and Transportation Center. Currently he added, the design for this Phase is 60-percent completed and scheduled for bid advertisement by May of this year.
When asked about a possible merger between WICO and VIPA, Cartwright responded by stating that it will be a very complex undertaking that would need a comprehensive approach and planning. Under further questioning by committee members, Senators expressed great concern regarding the pending 1.4 million in civil penalty owed to FAA as well as their contractual agreement with Lemartec, Inc., the entity hired to provide annual recurrent Part 139 training, for airfield operations staff.
Cartwright in his testimony noted various renovations and structural upgrading of the Port Authority’s property but failed to identify a funding source. This left the committee members with numerous questions pertaining to the possibilities of enacting those plans were. Senators were pleased to learn that the FAA audit findings concerns were addressed and discussion with GVI regarding land swapping was on the table.
Committee members and Non-members were Chairwoman Senator Allison DeGazon, Marvin Blyden, Alicia Barnes, Donna Frett-Gregory, Myron Jackson, Oakland Benta, Athneil (Bobby) Thomas, Kurt Vialet and Novelle Francis, Jr.