A new committee in the 34th Legislature intends to bring more oversight and accountability to the sprawling and often convoluted maelstrom of disaster recovery in the territory.
Chaired by Sen. Janelle Sarauw and co-chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the new Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure Committee intends to figure out why recovery projects and dollars are seemingly not moving fast enough — a long-standing critique made by lawmakers.
“Greater accountability is what we’re looking for,” Sarauw said. “What is the hold up, why are things moving so slow with schools, hospitals and roads?”
Vialet followed suit, saying the pace of recovery more than three years after hurricanes Irma and Maria was “concerning” and needed to be sped up.
“This committee is going to be an additional voice to assist the administration, to find out whether the impediments that are stopping us from moving forward exist in the local government or are part of the cumbersome process with the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” Vialet said.
Bryan administration officials have noted the too-often burdensome process with FEMA, abound with inspections, cost estimates and approvals. Despite the V.I. government’s slew of recovery consultants, including Witt O’Brien’s, which enjoys a hefty $100 million annual contract, the results — according to many lawmakers — are not proving worth the cost.
“We want to hold everyone responsible who has been hired by the government of the Virgin Islands and helped with this disaster recovery and we also want to have deep conversations with FEMA to see how to speed up the process,” Vialet said.
To date, new schools are still four to five years away, with only the Arthur A. Richards K-8 School on St. Croix approved by FEMA for replacement. New hospitals are also not a reality, with the Luis Hospital on St. Croix at least five years away and repairs at Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas still ongoing. Many residents still have blue tarp roofs.
Joining Sarauw and Vialet on the committee will be Sens. Carla Joseph, Marvin Blyden, Genevieve Whitaker, Samuel Carrion and Franklin Johnson.