Aug. 29, 2001 — Only a smattering of West End residents took advantage of an opportunity Tuesday evening to grill a panel of hard-to-get public officials during a town meeting hosted by Sen. Emmett Hansen II.
The two-hour meeting, the second of such functions organized by the freshman St. Croix senator this year, focused on the current condition – or lack thereof – of the island’s roads, street lighting, solid waste and sewage disposal and storm water drainage. About 10 residents took advantage of having such an array of officials on the hot seat.
Among the notables were Department of Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood; Sonya Nelthropp, Callwood’s technical assistant on waste issues; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s V.I. Coordinator Jim Casey; St. Croix administrator Gregory Francis; Hollis Griffin, director of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Environmental Protection; and other DPW employees.
The meeting, Hansen said, was for "the sole purpose of bringing government back to the people."
What the people were told was that Public Works officials want the V.I. Water and Power Authority to take over the responsibility of the territory’s street lights. Callwood suggested that such an endeavor could be funded by a $1 surcharge on WAPA bills.
"That’s one of the things we hope to see in the near future," Callwood said.
Another of Public Works’ charges is the territory’s road system. Callwood noted that the department receives about $12.5 million a year in federal funds for certain roads and transportation projects for the entire territory. He said that until this year, local road repair projects haven’t been funded in nine years.
Aloy Nielsen, Public Works’ director of federal highway engineering, said that federal roads are those identified by a number. There are some 350 miles of such roads in the territory, he said, and the allotted federal funding each year is barely enough to maintain them.
"We are trying our best to spread it around," Nielsen said.
As far as solid waste and sewage issues go, Callwood and Nelthropp said they feel the proposed Waste Management Authority is the answer to the myriad of problems facing the department.
"It’s all about the money," Nelthropp said. "How we get it. How we manage it and how we account for it."
She said draft legislation for the Waste Management Authority is complete. The authority would essentially have control of bonding and funding, through wastewater and solid waste tipping fees, and "all the federal funding we can find," Nelthropp said. "And we are finding quite a lot."
Public Works is now working on a projected budget for the authority for the next 18 months to five years to take to the Senate.
Meanwhile, Hansen, the new chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, said he is drafting legislation that would set aside 10 percent of collected property taxes that could only be spent on infrastructure and capital improvement projects. He said 5 percent would go toward local roads, 3 percent to garbage pick-up and 2 percent to street lights.
The proposal would include a $25,000 fine for anyone who moves the money out of the fund for uses other than what is called for in the legislation.
"Because that is what property taxes should be going for," Hansen said.
Hansen will hold a second meeting Wednesday at the American Legion Post in Christiansted at 6 p.m. For more information, contact Hansen’s office at 712-2210.


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