March 22, 2002 – Improvements to the Water and Power Authority's infrastructure on St. John are on the way, the utility's executive director, Joseph Thomas Jr., promised at a community meeting hosted by WAPA this week at the Westin Resort.
As a short-term solution to the island's annual spring tourist season water shortage, WAPA expanded its production capability on St. John last year by contracting Seven Seas Water Corp. to produce about 150,000 gallons of water a day in a temporary plant. WAPA also increased the size of its intake pipe so that its own plant now produces 150,000 gallons a day, giving St. John a total daily production of 300,000 gallons.
Plans are in the works to expand WAPA's production by another 300,000 gallons a day and to add storage capacity, Thomas said.
"When you have additional storage, there will be no more rationing, ever," he pledged at the Tuesday meeting. The longer-term solution will come with the installation of a water pipeline from St. Thomas that is part of WAPA's 10-year plan.
The Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee approved a CZM permit Thursday for WAPA to construct the pipeline. It will run from Foster Plaza to the National Guard armory on St. Thomas, and then, via a flexible submarine line, from Red Hook to Frank Bay on St. John. The project will involve replacing the existing seawater intake system for the desalination unit at Frank Bay.
Utility officials told the committee that if the permits are approved, the pipes will be laid by August and will be delivering water to residents of St. Thomas's East End and of St. John in one and a half to two years. (See "Committee acts without, and against, testifiers".)
At Tuesday's town meeting, residents welcomed the end to the annual water shortage, but some said the production changes have produced quality problems.
"A filter used to last about 10 days. Now, in four days it's messed up," St. John Administrator Julien Harley said. He also said the water tastes terrible and contains sediment.
Thomas replied that the Seven Seas water does not taste as good as WAPA's. The water that goes out through the potable water pipes and to customers who buy water from truckers is a mixture of what's produced by both sources, he said..
WAPA's assistant director, Glen Rothgeb, said the utility's plant was shut down several weeks ago so a problem could be fixed. In the process, he said, water in the tanks was stirred up, which could account for the sediment. He said WAPA is flushing the tanks and will take them out of service for cleaning after the peak season ends.
As far as electricity, Thomas said St. John needs a substation. Power now comes to St. John by submarine cable from St. Thomas. When that fails, the Silver Arrow generator is turned on, but it supplies power to only a small portion of the island's customers. The island has 2,892 meters.
Thomas also said WAPA plans to move its St. John office, now located above Connections in the heart of Cruz Bay, to a more spacious site. He did not identify the new location, saying the lease is still in negotiation.
One resident complained that, despite its growth, St. John has only two WAPA customer-service representatives, with one out on maternity leave. Thomas said he would look
into adding staff. He also said the new WAPA office will have Saturday hours like those on St. Thomas and St. Croix.
Territorywide, Thomas said, WAPA hopes to put lights on all utility poles and to fix all non-operating street lights over the next year and a half. Of the 20,000 utility poles up now, he said, only 8,000 have lights. He noted that the Legislature recently moved responsibility for streetlights from the Public Works Department to WAPA — but has yet to provide funding to the utility for the added workload.
Paying for the streetlights will now fall to WAPA's customers in the form of a rate increase of $1.80 a month, he said.
Eventually, customers also will pay for a high-tech conversion to meters that can be read from an office without on-site visits by a meter reader. The new meters cost $150 each, but Thomas said they will save money in the long run because meter reading is a difficult proposition in the territory, given the hilly terrain and the profuse vegetation that often surrounds the meters. "It's not cheap," he said. "We'll probably start with business customers."
The St. John community meeting was the second of three. The first was held last week on St. Croix. The third will be on St. Thomas on Tuesday at the Palms Court Harborview Hotel; it's scheduled to run from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
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