Four Senators Questioned by Residents on Variety of Subjects at Town Meeting

 Senators Justin Harrigan, Tregenza Roach and Jean Forde joined St. John Senator at Large Almando “Rocky” Liburd, second from right, at a town meeting to hear from constituents on April 9 at the Cruz Bay Legislature annex.

CRUZ BAY — Four members of the 31st Legislature took testimony from St. John residents at a town meeting held April 9. Testifiers asked Senator-At-Large Almando “Rocky” Liburd and three of his colleagues for their help in addressing a myriad of topics.

Several residents who spoke carried over their concerns about property taxes from the town meeting held the night before by Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter. Other topics raised included an update by Liburd on a long-promised government agreement with St. John Rescue.

Along with Senators Jean Forde, Justin Harrigan and Tregenza Roach, Sen. Liburd heard questions about services to veterans and fishing rights within the boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park.

The lawmakers also informed the gathering of about 40 residents of a pending restoration of services to island seniors.  They listened carefully, took notes and asked questions.

Native Fishing Rights and Veteran Services
Residents like Melville Samuels asked that he and his friends be allowed to continue fishing off the island coast as they have all their lives, without interference from park rangers.

Alvis Christian asked why medical services that veterans used to access at the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic can’t be found there anymore. He also raised questions about the lack of recreational facilities for youth in Coral Bay.

Perennial town hall subjects such as road access through the park to private land holdings came up on Thursday night. Sen. Roach offered new thoughts on the matter.

“It would be the local government, creating a formula for an exemption,” Sen. Roach said. Such an exemption would allow for the opening of roads for the local area, the senator explained.

“It’s an idea I’m fleshing out,” Sen. Roach said.

Sen. Liburd said the Legislature’s legal counsel is exploring the matter now.

“There was an act happening way back in the day, and up until today we were researching as to what was the memorandum of understanding at that time that led up to where we are today,” the St. Johnian senator said.

Recreation, Veterans Affairs
Sen. Harrigan addressed the recreation and veteran’s questions.

St. John services had to be curtailed because there were not enough veterans signing up for services to justify their continuation, Sen. Harrigan said. While veterans can get services on St. Thomas, transportation reimbursement currently doesn’t cover trips from St. John to St. Thomas, or to St. Croix, where many V.I. vets travel for eye care.

That is something that could be addressed about ferry reimbursement in the 31st Legislature, Sen. Harrigan said. He also encouraged Christian to reach out to Pedro Cruz, Commissioner-designee at Sports, Parks and Recreation.

Cruz recently visited St. John and is currently looking for someone to head recreational programs for the island Sen. Liburd added.

Road Safety Concern
Resident Larry Best raised an issue heard for the first time at a Legislative town meeting regarding road safety. 

Since a new gas station opened on one of the island steepest hills, Best said he is concerned about the safety of fuel deliveries to that gas station. The station has no area where trailers carrying gasoline can move completely off of the public road, so fuel is offloaded while the truck is parked in the road, according to the lolng-time resident.

“We have what I consider a very dangerous situation on St. John,” Best said. “The trailer tanker trucks that deliver to this station go across Jacob’s Ladder — it’s steeper than Donkey Hill.”

“When they get to the gas station there’s no place to park, so the gasoline trailer truck parks in the public road and empties the gasoline into the tank,” Best explained. “It’s unbelievably dangerous.”

“Sooner of later that road will be a sea of fire” Best said.

It’s a public safety issue,” Liburd agreed. “We will have to look at that.”

Also in the area of public safety, former principal Yvonne Wells expressed concerns about roadway lighting near the Calabash Boom Housing Community. Wells said she heard the street lights were not installed in the area because of concerns for nesting turtles on a nearby beach.

“Too much light would cause problems with the hatching at a nearby bay; but it bothers me, every time I drive by there because children live in that neighborhood,” Wells said. “ I’m asking that you find some way in assisting that community by getting lighting that will aid the turtle population but also protect the people’s children.”

Solution Again Promised for Deceased Bodies
Sen. Liburd spoke proactively about a sensitive service area, letting the gathering know he had spoken that day to the office of the Attorney General about the finalization of an agreement with St. John Rescue for the transportation of deceased residents.

The volunteer emergency service group had a tentative agreement with the administration of former Governor John de Jongh to provide transport of the dead from St. John.

“We have all heard the sad story of a family” that had to carry a loved one to St. Thomas in their car because there was no agency available to transport the deceased,” Sen. Liburd said.

On Thursday, Sen. Liburd said, he was told by the AG’s office that the government agreement with St. John Rescue should be wrapped up shortly.

There was no confirmation of an agreement by Sunday.

Resident Fights Property Claim
Myrtle Barry from the St. John Unity Group read a letter from a 90-year-old St. Johnian in Estate Friis concerning the V.I. government’s role in a land dispute.

The letter writer accused the government of using Superior Court judges to usurp her family’s landholdings and award a deed to a private citizen in 2012. The letter writer traced her lineage and property rights through property documents dating back to the 1800s which included the parcel in question.

The lawmakers asked Barry to provide them with a copy of the letter. Sen. Roach said he was concerned about property matters like these and has been approached by several St. Johnians living in the Coral Bay area with similar stories.

He and the other lawmakers also heard from Coral Bay resident Bryan Bell, who offered an approach to relieve the property tax burden plaguing many on St. John. (Bell’s property tax proposals have been published in a series of columns in recent editions of St. John Tradewinds.)