Major win for Sen. DeGazon and farmers
The passing of two bills on Thursday morning dedicated to addressing storm water management and establishing a well drilling unit, was a major win for the community and farmers according to the bills’ sponsor, Sen. Allison DeGazon, chairwoman of the Committee on Economic Development, regulations and agriculture, testifiers and other committee members.
Bill No. 33-0037 is an act establishing an interagency committee to develop a storm-water management plan for the benefit of agriculture in the Virgin Islands.
Meanwhile, the second bill, 33-0065 is an act requiring the Department of Agriculture to establish and implement a Well Drilling and Maintenance Unit.
Bill No. 33-0037 was heard and held in committee on Sept. 16 to address technical points raised at the time. During Thursday’s committee meeting an amendment in the nature of a substitute was passed. Bill No. 33-0065 was also amended to require the DPNR to conduct a study of the territory’s aquifer to determine water capacity for agricultural use.
DeGazon said that the visionary and forward-thinking bills were necessary and followed up her point by showing testifiers and lawmakers in attendance a video of stormwater damages along the roads near Plaza Extra West.
“These bills are about the development of the agriculture infrastructure that feeds and creates self-sufficiency. It is about our residents and the stress of potholes, the loss of life from flooding, and having to continually pay for damages to our vehicles front ends from bad roads and improving our transportation infrastructure,” DeGazon said.
DeGazon also reminded lawmakers that lack of a stormwater management plan affected the ocean due to dirty debris, which presents harm to marine life.
Nelson Petty Jr., Commissioner of the Department of Public Works, testified in favor of the bill.
“As you know, DPW is currently developing road repair projects throughout the territory. The approach we have taken, particularly as it relates to FEMA-funded projects, is to do so by watershed. As such, we are taking steps to assess drainage impacts in each watershed. This bill aligns with that approach,” Petty said.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources—whom did not attend the hearing, much to the senator’s disappointment--and the Department of Agriculture found issue with the 180-day timelines presented in the bills.
However, lawmakers such as Sen. Alicia Barnes, argued that 180 days was sufficient time.
Timeline aside, Positive Nelson, Commissioner of Agriculture, presented data on wells territory wide to support the passing of the bills.
Both bills were voted on favorably and sent to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.