Aug. 3, 2001- The floating water desalination plant that sat unused for three years after it was donated to the territory by the U.S. Navy is still in British Virgin Islands waters four months after the V.I. government canceled a contract for its use by a private firm there.
The barge carrying two reverse-osmosis systems capable of converting seawater into 300,000 gallons of fresh water a day was leased in March to the Jost Van Dyke Water Co. Wayne Callwood, then acting commissioner of the Public Works Department, announced on April 5 that the government was terminating the three-year contract.
Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs said this week that the territory has been unable to retrieve the barge because of a dispute with Jost Van Dyke Water over the money it spent to get the U.S. government surplus equipment working. The company, owned by David Blyden, brother-in-law of Attorney General Iver Stridiron, wants reimbursement for the repair costs.
The V.I. government had never gotten the plant working, and the barge, anchored for some time off Hassel Island, had been vandalized in the meantime.
Because of reimbursement conditions in the contract, the barge apparently will remain in the B.V.I. until the V.I. government reimburses the company, Biggs said. Callwood asked Property and Procurement to retrieve it shortly after canceling the contract, he said, and talks have been under way with the company since then.
"They submitted invoices, and Public Works is attempting to secure the funds," Biggs said.
The leasing of the barge to the company, which sought the arrangement in order to produce and then sell water, was the cause of heated debate in the Senate Rules Committee on April 4, when it was considering Callwood's nomination as Public Works commissioner. Callwood terminated the contract the day after that hearing.
There also is the question of where the barge will be based when it is returned to the territory. Biggs said that Frank Bay, just south of Cruz Bay off St. John's west end, is under consideration.
In March of 1999, Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Bingley Richardson, then Public Works marine services director, said getting the barge to St. John and into operation should be a government priority to alleviate the island's serious and ongoing shortage of potable water.
When the Navy handed over the battleship-gray barge, engineers placed its value at $4 million and said it cost $5 million to build, Richardson said in 1999. Built in 1994, the plant was in excellent condition in Virginia, where he checked it out, he said, but it suffered damage due to rough seas on the passage to St. Thomas.
According to Richardson, a onetime ferryboat captain, $200,000 worth of replacement parts came with the desal plant, and all that was needed to get it operational was repair of "superficial damage" and training of personnel to operate it.
This week, Biggs said Property and Procurement is "looking at the best way to put the barge to use when it is returned." He said it will not sit idle, as it had done since being accepted from the U.S. government in May of 1998. "The barge has one purpose — to produce desalinated water," he said.
But he could not be more specific. While there are plans "to put it in use," he said, they have not been finalized.


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