Hurricane Recovery Advisory Committee prioritizes
ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands – One of the goals of the Hurricane Recovery Advisory Committee, created by U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth E. Mapp, is to help the Territory maximize every dollar it receives to rebuild.
“However much money ends up coming here for recovery, it won’t be enough,” said Harriet Tregoning, planning expert and former Deputy Director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She said stretching every available resource to create lasting impact was not only important, but imperative.
This can be achieved, Tregoning emphasized, through ensuring that efforts to rebuild are fully integrated and diversified to serve multiple needs. For example, the U.S. Virgin Islands must institute a more resilient power system in the long term, hire new local workers and provide training for unskilled residents.
The task force met Tuesday as part of the Governor’s mission to build back the U.S. Virgin Islands in a stronger, smarter and more environmentally friendly manner.
Governor Mapp called on the experts present to ensure that plans underway to upgrade the Charlotte Amalie waterfront won't be stymied by the anticipated effects of climate change.
“We need to make sure our authorities are taking climate change into consideration so that these projects are not washed over in 10 or 15 years,” he said.
The Governor also asked that the committee focus on plans to assist farmers and build more sustainably. Farmers had been making tremendous strides in the past two years but, as a result of the storms, the Territory has now reverted to importing nearly 100 percent of its food.
“Our agriculture industry was decimated,” the Governor said. “Farmers raising animals and crops have just lost so much. We must find ways to both protect the industry and help it recover.”
The Governor said that local agriculture had become an important component of tourism as people were increasingly traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands for culinary experiences. The Territory’s school lunch program was also hit hard by the lack of local produce as it had begun to fully implement the farm-to-school program, he said.
Committee member and V.I. Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Robles reported his team was working to help farmers and to rebuild the department itself, which was practically destroyed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. He said long-term plans include storing feed, seed and temporary fencing in a hardened facility so that the department can immediately assist farmers following a storm.
Tuesday’s meeting included local and national experts from both the public and private sectors. The agenda focused on updates on topics assigned to the committee’s various working groups. These included power, resilience, climate change, telecommunications, roadways and logistics and reports from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, which has been tasked with administering donations for U.S. Virgin Islands hurricane relief.
Clifford Graham, USVI Hurricane Recovery Committee Chairman and CEO of WICO, said a great deal of good work had already come out of the process.
“As Ms. Tregoning indicated, it is very important that our response and rebuild efforts be coordinated,” Graham said. “This is why the endeavors of this task force are so critical. We have local business leaders like Gary Engle from Caneel Bay, businessman Vivek Daswani and Attorney Marjorie Roberts representing the private sector (who are) working alongside local and national officials. Our group includes scientists, planners and disaster recovery experts. The Governor has asked us to work together to ensure we do not overlook any potential opportunity to rebuild smarter and stronger.”