WAPA line burial tentatively slated to start next month

The Cruz Bay streetscape will be changing as WAPA works toward burying overhead utility lines.

The V.I. Water and Power Authority plans to move ahead with burying utility lines in Cruz Bay and other select areas of the island next month, officials announced at a virtual St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee meeting. However, the plan is raising some concerns with Historic Preservation Committee members.

Phase one of the project, which is expected to take 11 months, will run from the Frank Bay substation to Mongoose Junction and will service 1,800 customers, including the V.I. Police Department’s Leander Jurgen Command, Julius E. Sprauve School, The Marketplace, a WAPA pump station and the National Park Service. Roads along that route will be trenched about six feet deep and two to three feet wide, said WAPA Project Manager Cordell Jacobs on Thursday.

Jacobs presented the plan to the Historic Preservation Committee during a meeting on Feb. 9, and explained the process of installing the underground power cables and “pad-mounted devices” throughout the Cruz Bay Historic District.

Committee chair Pamela Montegut said that “there is archaeological supervision for the entire project” because it’s federally funded, but Knight said the concrete pads may cover important sites before they can be excavated. Committee member Kurt Marsh asked about mitigation efforts to protect historic trees, and Jacobs said that while “nothing formal has been done,” they are working on a plan.

Knight also urged caution in excavating from the Strand Gade area down to Gallows Bay because of the possibility of unmarked burial sites near the cemetery. “I don’t think there’s been sufficient archaeology done throughout Cruz Bay over the years, and the whole district is sensitive,” Knight said. “We have to just be wary any time we’re working inside a historic district. We do support this project, but I do hope it’s well monitored.”

“The project does involve trenching underground, but this is happening in existing roadways, which are previously disturbed areas,” said environmental consultant Amy Dempsey. “If archaeological resources are uncovered, the trenching will stop, and those resources will be investigated and recovered. The area has already been highly disturbed, and the project has a very negligible impact to cultural or historic resources.”

Calling it a “critical project for the infrastructure of St. John,” V.I. State Historic Preservation Office Director Sean Krigger urged the four-member committee to grant conditional approval and revisit areas of concern, which they did unanimously. “We look forward to getting you a letter and we also look forward to the culmination of this project that will do so many good things for St. John,” Montegut said.

The committee’s endorsement of the project is necessary for approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Traffic

Although every effort will be made to maintain traffic flow during the trenching, the project is likely to cause disruptions, acknowledged WAPA Chief Operating Officer Greg Rhymer.

“We do realize traffic will definitely be a challenge because of the narrow roadways in Cruz Bay,” said Rhymer. “It’s one of those things that I don’t think we can get out of. The most we can do is try to provide as much public information as possible to try and avoid inconveniences. We may just have to compromise or deal with the tradeoff.”

Phase two of the FEMA-funded project involves burying lines from the Frank Bay substation to the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center via Centerline Road. Later phases will extend the buried lines to the Westin Resort via Southside Road, and to Maho Bay via North Shore Road, the latter of which became a sticking point for CZM committee members.

“I’m trying to understand why you’re extending underground on the north shore to Maho Bay, rather than carrying it on Centerline to Adrian, which has a housing community, or Gifft Hill, which is near the clinic and also has a housing community,” said St. John CZM committee member Kurt Marsh Jr. “Maho Bay doesn’t carry critical community facilities, and it doesn’t have housing communities and neighborhoods.”