Lease delayed for sustainable living center

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                  Testifiers Doug White (left), Harith Wickrema from Island Green Building Assoc. join Property and Procurement’s Vincent Richards at a Tuesday hearing in Cruz Bay. Photo by Judi Shimel.

CRUZ BAY — A proposed lease for Island Green Building Association was delayed by the 32nd Legislature Committee on Finance on Tuesday. Lawmakers on the committee held back the measure because of questions regarding the terms of the lease.

Consideration of the lease in Estate Susannaberg was the first measure on the committee’s two item agenda. It calls for an agreement between the Government of the Virgin Islands, the Department of Property and Procurement and Island Green that allows for the construction of a permanent building.

Lawmakers heard a presentation by association president Harith Wickrema on how the building would be used. He was accompanied by architect Doug White and Property and Procurement Commissioner Designee Vincent Richards.

Committee Chairman Kurt Vialet Jr. returned the lease to the agenda for a vote at the end of a seven hour hearing held at the Cleone Creque Legislative Conference Room. Vialet said the document presented at the Tuesday morning hearing was the wrong document.

That version was already signed by Gov.Kenneth Mapp. Customarily a lease would be signed by the governor after receiving Senate approval.

The association president said Island Green plans to build a sustainable living center on a parcel which is now littered with abandoned vehicles, across the road from the St. John Transfer Station.

Island Green already operates a re-use depot on a neighboring parcel, with surplus building materials, hardware and used household goods stored in shipping containers.
The head of the association said that with the Senate’s help, their efforts would gain some needed structure.

“The sustainable living center planned for Parcel 6A1, Estate Susannaberg is an exciting endeavor unlike anything currently in the territory and an asset to the community,” Wickrema said.

The plan calls for conversion of an abandoned warehouse on the property. If the lease is granted, he said, the building would include an expanded thrift shop and recycling center. There would also be an education center where students and community members could learn more about ways to manage the island’s waste stream.

Eventually Island Green would also add a glass crusher and find ways to convert discarded plastic into pellets, which could then be used to make other products.

To complete the conversion project Island Green expects to raise $200,000 in donated funds, building supplies and sweat equity. White said a portion of the money had already been generated through fundraising, with commitments made for more support, once the lease is secured.

The overall concept won the committee’s praise. Some lawmakers said they would like to see similar centers created on St. Thomas and St. Croix.

But as the hearing moved into the question and answer segment lawmakers shifted to the terms of the lease. Senator Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly said she liked the idea of a sustainable living center, but was not satisfied with the group’s financial reporting.

“I support the lease, I support what you’re doing,” she said. But the lease, as presented to the committee was flawed. Freshman Senator Dwayne DeGraff said the lease should be rejected outright.

Senator Neville James turned to Post Auditor Jose George for clarification. James said he did so after asking George to conduct a separate evaluation.

George said the parcel numbers on the proposal did not match the parcel in question. He also pointed to the amount of the lease. In one portion of the document, $1 a year; in another portion $1,200 a year.

“There is no Parcel 6A1,” Vialet said during a break in the hearings. “It’s 6A with a portion of 17A, the Public Works landfill at Susannaberg.”

Senator-At-Large Brian Smith criticized Property and Procurement officials for carelessness. For the past ten years, Smith said he’d watched Wickrema, White and Island Green volunteers put their ideas into action and he commended their progress.

“When it comes to what we are doing here, we’ve got to do things right,” Smith said. “The program is well intended but looking at it from both sides, we have to be careful with what we do with the people’s limited resources,” Smith said

Richards sat next to Wickrema and listened patiently while lawmakers chastised his agency. He also listened as the committee chairman cautioned his colleagues about their rhetoric.

“Let’s not throw all the players under the bus. Let’s work together collectively as a Finance committee to move this lease forward,” Vialet said.