St. Thomas — As the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands recognize the one-year anniversaries of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, construction in the region on major resorts and residential properties has been steaming ahead for months — hurricane Isaac’s increasing strength has government officials and businesses preparing for another unpredictable storm.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement on Sunday to residents “review your emergency plans and gather your supplies now.” The National Weather service warned residents located on the east coast of the United States to prepare for potentially heavy rainfall and flooding in coastal and inland cities. The state declared a state of emergency with the storm expected to approach the southeastern coast of the US on Thursday as a Category 3 storm or higher, according to the hurricane center.
Recently upgraded tropical storm, now Hurricane Isaac is forecast to impact the Lesser Antilles, including the U.S. Virgin Islands by Friday. Similar to 2017, the oddly quiet 2018 Atlantic hurricane season has awoken in September. The hurricane is expected to remain a Category 1, downgrading to a tropical storm later in the week.
AccuWeather meteorologists reported on Monday morning that hurricane watchers “cannot rule out the possibility that it could reach Category 2 strength early this week.” The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency began distributing hurricane tracking maps to residents on all three islands.
Construction in the Lesser Antilles is expected to wind down and changes to cruise line itineraries are expected as the storm approaches the Caribbean archipelago.
Hurricane Isaac is expected to delay the Bridge-to-Nowhere project which has been stalled for over 20 years. Originally set for an early 2018 completion, the Bridge-to-Nowhere construction project has experienced a series of setbacks since it began last May. The project broke ground before summer of 2017 as the Mapp Administration and lawmakers worked to stabilize the territory’s budget shortfalls.
After detours were enforced and construction began, Hurricane Irma struck the U.S. Virgin Islands — affecting mostly St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island — as a rare Category 5 storm. Construction halted when government officials scrambled to repair the islands’ then crippled infrastructure. In less than two weeks, Hurricane Maria passed through the territory, dealing a direct blow to St. Croix and Puerto Rico as another Category 5 storm — just brushing St. Thomas and St. John.
Historic rainfall last September caused a sizable portion of the Nadir gut to collapse, and severely damage homes in the Nadir Community. The gut has not been reinforced since and major gut improvements are not included in any updated bridge designs. To accommodate heavier annual rains, the gut would have to be widened or deepened to channel water out of the Nadir area.
Subsequent rains and territory-wide construction projects halted construction on the bridge for weeks, delaying the previous timeline of completion by early 2018. Heavy rains from hurricane Isaac threaten to wash away the unpaved sections of the constitution site, including construction at the adjacent race track in Bovoni.
The most powerful hours of hurricane Irma and Maria’s dumped large amounts of rain in the territory, the Nadir gut experienced historic flooding, with some residents posting videos of water higher than the windows in their homes.
With construction crews staged in center of Nadir gut, workers could see much of their hard work washed away in a matter of days. The northern portion of construction connected to Turpentine Run has seen near completed paving, sidewalks, skeletons of intersection signals and the installation of water and sewer lines.
Shortfall of Construction Crews
The Mapp Administration is working on several ambitious projects in the Virgin Islands, many of which won’t see completion until the 2018 Primary Elections have concluded.
In February of 2017, the Virgin Islands found itself in an economic crisis in the weeks following governor Mapp’s State of the Territory address. That same month, Department of Finance commissioner Valdamier Collens announced at a senate hearing that the Virgin Islands government had only two days of cash on hand.
In response, the Mapp administration issued an executive order authorizing job cuts and went as far as implementing a freeze on raises. He later floated the idea of shutting down the government for one day every two weeks.
Private contractors, especially those providing essential repairs to public infrastructure, roads and cell sites are split between three islands. Construction crews at the Bridge-to-Nowhere construction site utilize less than twenty workers during work hours, a relatively small number for any construction project of its size.
The steady decline in manpower over the past few months show what could be a major shift in priorities for the Mapp Administration. The governor has focused on securing federal loans, boosting cruise ship calls in the territory and his re-election bid in the past year. The administration began relying on the success of its capital projects as a re-election strategy. Mapp and his aides have cleared the way for landmark deals like the massive Veteran’s Drive project, the Main Street Project and the controversial reopening of the refinery on St. Croix. All of which are ambitious in nature and could potentially see setbacks as future weather patterns approach the territory.
A swarm of gubernatorial candidates, including Albert Bryan and Tregenza Roach’s Democratic Primary upset have put Governor Mapp’s campaign team on the offensive. Other formidable opponents include Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg and Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Soraya Diase Coffelt and Dwight E. Nicholson, and Janette Millin Young and Edgar L. Bengoa.
Governor Mapp is not expected to announce a state of emergency later this week since the territory has remained under one for over a year.