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Breaking News / News / Politics / Top Stories / Virgin Islands / October 1, 2019

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, criticized for writing a letter calling for a state of emergency to be declared at WAPA, on Saturday struck back at her critics. In her letter, made available to the press on Sept. 19, Ms. Plaskett said, “WAPA must take radical, extraordinary steps for our people to receive efficient and reliable service in a financially sound utility system. Indeed, WAPA may need to seek federal court intervention as the authority’s operations are under duress by several of its vendor/creditors, creating an unfair advantage and negotiation toward other creditors and the people of the Virgin Islands.”

In return, the delegate fielded a fiery response from WAPA Executive Director Lawrence Kupfer, who said there was “no basis” for a emergency declaration.

Mr. Kupfer and other WAPA executives, WAPA board members and the Public Services Commission are expected to testify before the Senate today.

On Saturday, the congresswoman called in to the long-running Alicia Hansen radio show, hosted by the former senator who has maintained a loyal following. There, Ms. Plaskett said members of Congress know well the problems at WAPA. She also reiterated her stance that billions of dollars for the territory remain at stake because of the WAPA crisis.

The delegate said she felt that she had to get involved in the issue “because it does affect federal funding.”

“When I talk to federal agencies and federal officials about the hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the territory, they have concerns about WAPA. I’ve talked to the underwriters of our bonds, they have concerns about the operations and finances and management of WAPA, and I think it’s a responsibility of those of us who are elected officials to say something about it,” Ms. Plaskett said.

There has been talk in political circles that the congresswoman’s letter was a political play to position herself to run for governor in 2022; and even Governor Albert Bryan has hinted at this, referring to the letter as political.

During the weekly Government House press briefing held Monday, the governor said negative comments from local elected officials about WAPA erodes the confidence of investors already skeptical about the Virgin Islands infrastructure and overall financial stability.

“We have had several investors come to the table. And every single time someone opens their mouth to make a disparaging comment about WAPA, we start over again,” Mr. Bryan said. “And that’s making it more difficult” to put potential investors in the territory at ease.

Relative to concerns in the Bryan camp about Ms. Plaskett’s political ambitions, she said, “I think it’s unhelpful to individuals to be concerned about who’s running for their jobs. They need to focus on the job that they’re doing. I’ve had an older woman in Congress, Eddie Bernice Johnson, she’s from Texas. She’s been there since the 1990s, and she told me when I first started, ‘the best way to campaign for yourself is to do your damn job.’ If you’re looking behind you to see who is running against you, you’re going to fail because you’re going to trip on your feet because you’re not looking ahead.”

“For those people who want to put in the governor’s ear who’s running, who wants his seat, who wants to run against him, that’s a waste of time. I know I’m running in 2020 for the position that I have now as a delegate to Congress and that’s what I’m focused on,” Ms. Plaskett added.

Ms. Plaskett said while pundits and others attempt to decipher her reasons for writing the letter, the facts about WAPA have yet to be disputed.

“What I find really interesting is that people want to talk about my motivations, but the facts are what the facts are; nobody is disputing the facts. What there may be dispute about is how we get to the next stage of providing reliable energy and making Virgin Islanders comfortable about the Water and Power Authority. But nobody is disputing the facts that there are tremendous financial problems and that they as well have concerns about the board and the operations of WAPA. So despite whatever they think my motivations are, the facts are as they are. And when people have to get into discussions about people personally, that just kind of negates what they said previously. It means that they have a poor argument if they have to go to that place.

“More interestingly, since I’ve written the letter I’ve had additional discussions with the underwriters who hold our bonds, municipal analysts in New York, Chicago and other places that are watching this — the rating agencies — as well as federal agencies and Congress as well. And no one was surprised; everyone is very clear with what’s happening at WAPA. I didn’t say anything that people didn’t know already.”

Ms. Plaskett said the rating agencies’ main interest has been what are the territory’s leaders’ solutions for the WAPA problem. “The first way to recover and to build is to be truthful about where you are and not pretending that things aren’t’ what they are,” she said.

The delegate said she spoke with the governor before writing the letter, a revelation that serves to quell talk that the letter came as a surprise to Government House. “He did not agree with the position that I had, or the stance that I had. I also called Senator [Novelle] Francis before I wrote the letter about what my positions were because we’re supposed to be both Democrats, we want to work together, and my position was that we don’t have to always agree with each other, but if we can try and find areas where we can agree and work together, that’s what’s most helpful,” Ms. Plaskett said.

She addd, “I am of the position as the delegate to Congress that there are billions of dollars at stake in federal issues. I’ve gotten signals from the markets that they want us to take what’s happening at WAPA more seriously. I had people, employees at WAPA as well as constituents calling and telling me their concerns with the operations, with the management, with the finances, and I take those things very seriously.”

In a clear example of how long the WAPA problem has plagued the Virgin Islands, Ms. Hansen said, “I don’t see your involvement as doing any harm. I wrote letters to [Donna] Christensen when she was in Congress asking her to get involved with the same WAPA.”

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Ernice Gilbert
I wear many hats, I suppose, but the one which fits me best would be journalism, second to that would be radio personality, thirdly singer/songwriter and down the line. I've been the Editor-In-Chief at my videogames website, Gamesthirst, for over 5 years, writing over 7,000 articles and more than 2 million words. I'm also very passionate about where I live, the United States Virgin Islands, and I'm intent on making it a better place by being resourceful and keeping our leaders honest. VI Consortium was birthed out of said desire, hopefully my efforts bear fruit. Reach me at [email protected]




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