It’s More Than a ‘Gravel Lot,’ Mr. Dowe

one of the piles of gravel ready to be spread across the parking lot. (Source photo by Amy Roberts)
One of the piles of gravel ready to be spread across the parking lot on St. John (Source photo by Amy Roberts)

There’s so much more to the St. John “gravel lot” issue, Mr. Dowe. There are issues which should be thoughtfully considered beyond how much the Port Authority can charge to park there.

The “gravel lot” is the only capital improvement for STJ in nearly two decades. It was meant to be a free parking lot to ease the congestion of Cruz Bay, and the CZM states such in its permit for the lot.

The Port Authority, who never managed the lot for all of these years, suddenly is upset at some derelict cars as being intolerable. Well, VIPA, Irma left abandon vehicles all over the island, and a few made their way to the lot, which is better than on our streets and roads. From the lot, those cars should have been moved off island.

Since 1990, STJ has forfeited our Capital Improvement Funds to haul our trash. We are the only island to pay for the hauling of waste, to the tune of over $1M per year, totaling over $40M to date. Over a million dollars per year for an island of about 5,000 people. Well, for that amount of money, WMA should have been hauling the derelict vehicles off island. $40M from STJ alone, while other islands get a $60M baseball stadium, a $60M Crown Bay, $10M for STT Main Street improvements, parking garage, and new docks and amenities. What does STJ get? We get over 20 years with no improvements and now high parking fees to park on gravel.

Dowe says we can park for free in the Customs lot. Obviously, he hasn’t been there…there is no parking, no management, and the chaos is even worse than the chaos at our waterfront ferry dock, which is hard to believe. We can’t even get to the post office. Personally, I’m in favor of parking meters in town and free parking at the ‘gravel lot.’

VIPA’s parking rate at the “gravel lot” is equal to the rate at the new parking building at Red Hook right at the ferry terminal. A big difference is, instead of parking at the terminal as in Red Hook, our “gravel lot” is a 1/4 mile from the ferries and you have to walk on streets mostly without sidewalks.

Today, the Port Authority is erecting a 10 ft. high cyclone fence with barbed wire on top, all along our “gravel lot” street, about a 1,000 ft. I presume it’s to make sure no one gets out without paying. Well, won’t that be lovely for Cruz Bay to look like a prison yard? What VIPA could do instead is to recycle our old electric poles with planting of vegetation as a barrier. Such would be attractive and people wouldn’t have to walk the whole lot just to walk out of the lot. Regardless, the people of STJ should have a voice as to how we want our town to look to tourists and ourselves.

Also, what is planned for the 3 to 4 acres of vacant land inside the “gravel lot”? For over a decade, I have advocated for the parking and the use of this land as a Carnival Park, a Vendors Village, a permanent amphitheater, a huge grassy field, playgrounds, and a walking/jogging track around the perimeter. I have presented this plan to the VIPA Port Authority Board, to 3 Governors, and to nearly every STJ organization. VIPA’s plan is to have it be a storage lot for shipping trailers. I think a Carnival Park is a far better use as a centerpiece of Cruz Bay than an ugly trailer park. Imagine enjoying Carnival and Events on a huge grassy field while our youth play safely in playgrounds. Now, imagine a big field of empty trailers. St. Johnians, this is our town!

In closing, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that charging to park at the “gravel lot” will only further congest the rest of Cruz Bay. To avoid spending $10 a day on parking, people will drive around in circles searching for free parking which will further gridlock our town even more than our current unmanaged chaos has created. And, what will people on a late ferry or late town employees do to get their car when the lot closes?

These are just some of the reasons I wish the Port Authority would reconsider its plan and its prison fence. It is time that the St. John Community gets the town it wishes to be proud of.

Steve Black, St. John