Mapp Names Malone Climate Coordinator; Addresses Trips, EB-5 Program

Gov. Kenneth Mapp named former Sen. Shawn Michael Malone to coordinate the territory’s assessment and response plan to climate change, discussed recent trips and said he is unaware of a rumored sale of the Hovensa refinery at a press conference Wednesday at Government House on St. Croix.

Mapp spent six days last week in Guam attending a meeting of territorial governors, hosted by the Department of the Interior, to discuss how what he called “global” change will affect the territories. Mapp said Interior has set aside $7 million for the territories to assess the problem and plan a strategy.

According to the governor, as the temperature rises Virgin Islanders can expect a negative impact, especially on seniors and children, changes in the sea and an increase in mosquito-borne infections such as dengue fever and chickungunya.

Construction, including the $140 million road project in St. Thomas, could also be affected as the sea level rises over the next 15 to 20 years, Mapp said, adding that ports and runways will also need studies to determine the impact.

To oversee the V.I. plan to adjust to climate change, Mapp announced Malone will work out of Government House as the federal program coordinator “to show we have real responses to these issues.” No mention was made of salary.

Also attending the Guam meeting were representatives from the V.I. Territorial Management Agency, Coastal Zone Management, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the University of the Virgin Islands. Those agencies will help craft and implement the plan along with the Health Department, Human Services, the Fire Service and others.

After visiting Guam, Mapp went to Miami and met with government representatives and lawyers to talk about introducing an immigrant investor program known as EB-5 into the territory. The regional center and law firms that manage the program are located in Miami, according to the governor. The State Department administers EB-5 programs and if instituted in the Virgin Islands, foreign citizens would receive permanent residency in exchange for investing at least $500,000 and creating five to 10 jobs.

“Dominica and St. Kitts have already seen the benefits of the EB-5 program,” Mapp said, adding, “It can work for us.”

According to the governor, $29 million in tax refunds has been distributed for 2012 and 2013. Currently 7,100 taxpayers are scheduled to receive 2014 refunds in the next 30 to 60 days.

The governor gave an update on negotiations to rebuild the Paul E. Joseph stadium in Frederiksted. General contractor GEC, which was approved by the previous administration, has spent $3.6 million and demolition is not complete. When Mapp took office, he said, his review concluded that the $20 million contract would construct a stadium worth $10 million. GEC has agreed to rebate $1.2 million and redraw a plan to include accommodation for a flood zone, he said.

The company will have the option to bid on the construction at that point. Mapp said although the stadium won’t be completed by December, the adjacent area used for St. Croix Carnival will be accessible.

Mapp outlined two upcoming trips – one to Puerto Rico on Friday to inspect supplies set aside by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the Virgin Islands in case of hurricane or other natural disaster. He also plans to travel to Washington, D.C., next week to lobby for a larger portion of a federal highway construction grant.

According to Mapp, Congress soon will approve a $30 billion highway bill for the states and territories. The V.I. annual allotment has been reduced from $20 million to $16 million, and Mapp hopes to have a minimum of $75 million allocated for the territory each year, he said.

Next Wednesday, the governor said he, the attorney general. and the commissioner and assistant commissioner of the V.I. Police Department will meet with the New York Police Department to discuss crime prevention.

After his report, Mapp took questions from the media. He said he has “no knowledge of a deal” with Hovensa. He has not yet determined where to live on St. Thomas, because it isn’t “important to him,” but again rejecting the official governor’s residence.

The governor’s stance on cabinet nominees is unchanged. His cabinet is largely unstaffed with the exception of a few commissioners and acting commissioners. He has been criticized since he took office for increasing the salaries of 11 people he selected to take the new positions. Last month, he agreed to cap the salaries at $105,000 after the Senate voted twice not to confirm the nominees.

“The ball is in the Legislature’s court,” Mapp said, ending the discussion.

The promised 1,000 new jobs have not been created because some departments need to be reformed, he said, adding, “We will make good on our promise.”

Mapp also took a few shots at the media, criticizing them for calling hotels to find out where he is staying and overall “media exuberance.”

“The press has its right to do its job. But it can’t have expectations that the governor of the Virgin Islands, whoever that may be, can operate without spending money. It’s lunacy,” he said.