DPW Planning To Open Roads Through National Park on North, South Shores

After Department of Public Works Commissioner George Phillips outlined his department’s “plan to improve the road system on St. John” at the May 17 meeting of the V.I. Senate Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Affairs on St. John, VITEMA St. John Deputy Director Alvis Christian raised a warning.

While echoing the 40-year-old call for alternative cross-island and south shore roads through the V.I. National Park (VINP), Christian asked the government officials to tell the National Park Service (NPS) about their plans to open long-dormant island roads through the park before federal officials freeze such improvements for the next 20 years in the park’s next General Management Plan.

“I am asking the legislators that the next road we look at would be Johnny Horn Road that takes you from Coral Bay to Cruz Bay without using Centerline,” said Christian of the shortest route between Coral Bay and the North Shore Road in the V.I. National Park at Annaberg.

Road Improvements Blocked?
Christian warned the management plan being developed by the VINP could hinder improvement of old roads through the park. “Once it is signed off, nothing can be done for 20 years,” Christian warned of the National Park Service plan currently being updated.

The VITEMA deputy director and Coral Bay native also told government officials the island needs “a southern route” through the VINP on the south shore of St. John connecting Fish Bay with Coral Bay through Estate Mandahl.

“We are definitely going to fund it,” said committee chairman Senator Roosevelt David of Johnny Horn Road.

Landlocked Landowners
“There are numerous roads on St. John that must be developed,” David added, acknowledging “differences between local landowners and the National Park.”

“There are some local landowners landlocked,” David said. “There have been locally-owned roads that have disappeared.” “The National Park might have assumed rights of way do not exist,” agreed DPW Commissioner George Phillips, who promised to “reestablish and reassert the government’s rights to various properties that are in contention.”

The longstanding issue of public access to the numerous old-time roads through what is now the V.I. National Park — which historically connected the island’s small, isolated, far-flung subsistence communities — initially was raised by David at the St. John meeting of the committee, which he chairs.

In the past, the NPS has fought public access to in-holdings within the park. The NPS has blocked access to some of the rights of way — which were just being converted from donkey paths with the arrival of the first vehicles on the island shortly before the advent of the VINP in the 1950s.

Estate Roads Neglected
Several old island roads to former North Shore sugar plantations or estates have been allowed to fall into disrepair or be taken over by the forest through lack of maintenance. Recently the park has objected to private clearing of at least one of the contested rights of way.

“When will there be a second access to Coral Bay,” committee chairman David asked DPW’s Phillips.

“There is a need for by-passes from Centerline Road to the North Shore,” Phillips said.

The island’s north-south roads such as Route 204 from Susannaberg and Route 206 from Hammer Farm to Cinnamon Bay must be accessible, especially to cut down delays “in case of emergencies,” the DPW commissioner added.

“We find that unacceptable, especially for emergency vehicles,” Phillips said of the loss of access to the old roads.

DPW officials are looking at improving Route 109 from the Moravian Church in Coral Bay over the hill to Annaberg, according to Phillips.

“It is important,” Phillips said. “There is a demand greater than 20 years ago.”

Two road projects currently underway will provide additional access between Cruz Bay and Coral Bay, Phillips added.

DPW is planning to complete the last section into Coral Bay of Route 108 Bordeaux Mountain Road with a mixture of local funds and federal funds, according to Phillips. DPW also intends to start design work on Route 20 Kings Hill Road, he added.

“That would allow the residents of Coral Bay to have more than one route to be able to get in and out of that land area,” Phillips said. Phillips also supported opening Route 107, the South Shore Road Christian wanted reopened to provide access between Cruz Bay and the largest area of the island which is still in native ownership.

“On our map it is designated a public road,” said Phillips. “As Commissioner of Public Works I intend to insist on the right of local government to have use of this road.”