WAPA workers unload one of the three pieces of a new 100-foot-plus fiberglass tower which replaces the new and unused 60-foot wooden pole, right, which replaced the old 30-foot pole, left, in the center of the right of way in the Mamey Peak neighborhood.
CRUZ BAY — It’s not the typical new-parent hubbub for retired V.I. Senator at Large Craig Barshinger nesting in his bachelor-pad-turned-nursery on Mamey Peak with his fiancé, V.I. Senate hopeful Jody Hodge, and their weeks-old daughter Claire Urbi Barshinger.
The new parents’ sleepless nights are coming from the V.I. Water and Power Authority (WAPA), not from Claire.
Barshinger thought he had secured a Stop Work Order (SWO) against the installation of a 100-foot tall, hollow, fiberglass antennae less than 100 feet from his family’s home in disregard of zoning regulations which require a “fall radius” to prevent an antennae tower from falling on a structure closer to the tower’s base than its height.
Work Stops for Carnival?
Now the former V.I. Senator is hoping the work will stop through St. Thomas Carnival and he can get the work permanently stopped before then.
The pieces of the tower arrived in Barshinger’s small, isolated neighborhood and Water and Power Authority workers started its installation when Claire was a week old.
“I am opposed to a 100-foot tower being erected that uses my property as the fall radius,” Barshinger wrote in a frantic exchange of e-mails with Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) and WAPA officials. “It could kill my daughter, my fiancé, myself or persons visiting us.”
“It could bounce and pierce my house like a lance,” the long-timer resident of the mid-island aerie neighborhood. “It would be like living under the Damocles’s Sword, which dangles above his head, suspended by a hair.
Baby Sitting Activism
The former three-term Senator at Large spent most of Claire’s first weeks of life — she was born at home in a water birth with the assistance of a mid-wife, Barshinger enthuses — with his daughter cradled in the crook of his arm while Barshinger called every public official he could to stop the project in his small, isolated, mountaintop neighborhood.
“WAPA continued to assemble the monopole and dig trenches long after Hugo Hodge had texted me that the work was stopped,” Barshinger wrote St. John Tradewinds. “Specifically, they joined two 45-foot sections of monopole by hoisting sections with crane, drilling holes and installing bolts; they dug trenches from the concrete pad to the hole where they intend to place the monopole tower.”
“What are the next steps? I want to be listed as an opponent of this monopole being placed without a permit, without a review process, and most importantly without a fall radius,” Barshinger continued.
“WAPA has stated that the primary purpose of the monopole is to support an AMI antenna,” Barshinger wrote. “In fact, by WAPA’s own admission, the primary purpose of the monopole is to hold an antenna.”
Barshinger argued with the attorney’s reference to WAPA’s installation of a “utility pole and support infrastructure.”
“Att. Kragel states that the monopole will also be used to carry electrical lines, which is a function of a utility pole,” Barshinger argued. “Under the (regulations) monopole towers require a permit.”
“Furthermore, there is no need for a monopole tower to carry electric lines as there is only one (1) WAPA customer served by the pole,” Barshinger added. “It is absurd to state that WAPA needs a 100-foot tower in order to serve one customer. Additionally, there is no need for growth, as the other customers to the east are already supplied by other poles and lines.”
“This utility pole is identical to the utility poles which the Authority has installed in St. Thomas and which were installed after confirming from DPNR the regulation found at CVIR 29-5-312B §§ 1 et seq. was inapplicable,” Atty. Kragel wrote.
“If identical poles were installed on St. Thomas without permits, they are also in violation of the (regulations),” Barshinger countered. “Getting away with violations of law does not justify additional violations. DPNR should visit the sites WAPA claims.”
Barshinger also contradicted the attorney’s contention that the monopole will replace an existing utility pole that is currently located near the center of the right of way.
“This is false. WAPA has just erected a new 65-foot utility pole to replace the aging pole placed in the middle of the road in (about) 1986,” Barshinger wrote.
“The new pole will be exclusively owned and operated by the Authority as a public utility,” the WAPA attorney continued in his written response to DPNR officials. “The new pole will carry the Authority’s primary electrical distribution lines as well as all secondary electrical lines needed to provide electrical power to the surrounding residents.
“This is false; the 65-foot pole was placed to carry electricity to the one (1) customer,” Barshinger countered. “The tower is to gather AMI remote metering signals; it is a transmission tower.
“The new utility pole will also serve as a location for the Authority’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure and Customer System which is funded in part through a federal grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” the WAPA attorney continued.
“AMI is indeed a good idea,” said Barshinger, who has had a contentious history with WAPA, “but we cannot violate permitting laws, and we cannot allow 100-foot towers to fall on anyone’s property. ”
“This critical system is a core to bringing the Authority’s electrical distribution system to a state of the art quality and will serve as one stationary location through which the Authority will monitor and record its St. John grid conditions,” the WAPA attorney continued.
“This new utility pole and associated utility infrastructure will allow the Authority to detect any transmission disturbance and identify the exact location of any disturbance in electrical distribution system at a speed nearly 100 times faster than any other technology available,” the WAPA attorney continued. “The new utility power will serve as wired distribution point in the Authority’s electricity system that can instantly syncophase any oscillation in the grid, analyze and produce in real time for the Authority’s engineer information to immediately isolate a problem by through switch capacitors.
“Finally, the new utility pole and associated utility infrastructure will save enormous time, costs and headaches to the Authority’s customers in that the line crews will be dispatched to a specific location will no longer need to shut down entire feeder sections to work on power outage problems,” the lawyer continued. “As you can see, each piece of infrastructure installed on the utility pole in question is an inseparable component to the Authority’s distribution of electricity and providing lighting throughout the Territory.”
“In essence, these new utility poles, associated utility infrastructure and wire components will provide the authority the cutting edge technology to make the entire electrical grid in the Territory more reliable, more secure and much more cost efficient while ensuring that renewable energy resources are integrated into the system as required by law,” the lawyer concluded.
“I appreciate the pep talk about how great AMI is, but it is not relevant to placing a 100-foot tower, without a permit, pouring concrete and constructing without a permit, and using my property and the lives of my daughter and fiancé as the ‘cushion’ when the tower is blown over,” Barshinger responded bluntly.
No stranger to struggles with WAPA, Barshinger is watching to see if work on the project moves ahead while most of the V.I. Government is shut down during St. Thomas Carnival until early May.