Long Term Recovery Team Outlines Progress on St. John

Initiatives for boats, bats, and beach debris were some of the topics presented at the St. John Long Term Recovery Team’s monthly meeting held Thursday evening.

The environment was the focus of this month’s meeting, so it was fitting that it was held for the first time at the Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center.

“We have great public-private partnerships, and the goal of the meeting is to communicate efforts to bring the infrastructure to a level that exceeds pre-storm conditions so that the island is prepared for future disasters,” said Ian Samuel, president of the Long Term Recovery Team.

The meeting started with long-awaited news that the U.S. Navy is finally on the way to remove the 50 vessels that have been stranded in park waters since Hurricane Irma hit in September.

Dave Worthington, who heads up the park’s divisions of Natural and Cultural Resource and Interpretation, said the Navy and its contractors should be on island Aug. 7, “if the weather holds.” Boat owners should have already received emails informing them of the steps they’ll need to take, he said.

Because the date for boat removal has been postponed beyond the original date in June, park officials have been concerned that the risk of problems from tropical storm activity could jeopardize the program.

Worthington said once the Navy arrives, he expects the boat removal to happen quickly, and the park will soon be setting up Hurricane Hole as a storm refuge. The park allowed boaters to temporarily set up their storm anchoring gear when Hurricane Beryl threatened the islands earlier in July.

Worthington credited Darrell Echols, who served as VINP acting superintendent for several months starting in November 2017, with pushing through the paperwork that allows the Navy to assist the park. Echols pursued the funding efforts after he returned to his permanent position in the NPS Southeast regional office. Worthington also said Steve Black, who served as acting superintendent for several months following Echols’ tenure, will return to that position shortly.

Tonia Lovejoy, development director of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, said the group has received requests from the park to help fund 23 programs in the upcoming year.

“We hope to fulfill these requests – all of which have a volunteer component,” she said.

Lovejoy said the park was unable to operate its summer eco-camps this year but was still holding its Learn-to Swim Summer Program and had just received a donation of $5,000 from the Disney Cruise Line that would allow the program to continue through Aug. 10.

Ian Samuel, who formerly worked at the V.I. Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation, said that agency was holding a summer camp for 78 children this summer.

Worthington introduced a program that will heavily rely on volunteers, an initiative to build bat houses to provide shelter to some of the six species of bats that are found on St. John.

“Bats got hammered in the storm – they roost in the roofs that flew away,” said Worthington. A typical insect-eating bat can eat 500 insects per hour, he said.

Frank Cummings, who heads up the Caribbean Oceanic Restoration and Education Foundation on St. John, said that 300 “spear-carrying” volunteers throughout the Virgin Islands have been certified to hunt predatory lionfish, which seem particularly prevalent in deeper waters since the hurricane. Cummings said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed a new type of trap that catches only lionfish. CORE hopes to deploy some of these traps in waters at a depth of 120-300 feet.

Cummings said efforts also are underway to explore the possibility of developing a local market for lionfish, which he said is delicious.

“The number one issue is ciguatera,” said Cummings, referring to the toxin found in fish that prey on other fish in some local areas. Studies are now beginning to identify where ciguatera poisoning is prevalent.

Since the condition of the sea around the islands is very much affected by the contaminants that run off from land, the Coral Bay Community Council has made runoff mitigation a priority since its inception. Environmental Projects Associate Rachel McKinley said CBCC is collaborating with the St. John Community Foundation and the Long Term Recovery Team to apply for FEMA funding. She invited residents to bring their ideas to the LTRT meetings held the last Wednesday of every month.

As part of their mission, CBCC held a workshop on Friday at Skinny Legs in Coral Bay to help residents manage their septic systems.

Ryan West of Love City Strong said a sampling of 200 cisterns in homes on St. John indicated that 40 percent had high levels of E. coli, which is a “fecal indicator” bacterium.” Its presence is an indication of other pathogens, including staph, which can cause stomach problems and skin rashes.

LCS’ current initiatives include a mold sanitation project. The service is available to full-time residents of St. John who are seniors, low-income families, pregnant women, or residents whom have a non-emergency medical issue or a compromised immune system. Editor’s Note: The paragraph above has been corrected to portray LCS’ current initiative of a mold sanitation project, not mold mitigation project.

A program to recycle plastic waste from territorial beaches has received funding to continue through November, said Kitty Edwards, the education and outreach coordinator for the territory’s Coastal Zone Management. TerraCycle, an innovating recycling company, is partnering with Proctor & Gamble in the project that will store plastic debris and ship it to the States to be recycled into Head & Shoulders Shampoo bottles. Any rigid plastic debris found on beaches can be brought to Connections in Cruz Bay for collection, she said.

Edwards said the Virgin Islands Conservation Society was partnering with V.I. Clean Coasts to offer a “green certificate” program for local businesses. Phase I includes grants for businesses that wish to reduce their use of plastic waste. For example, a restaurant could apply for a grant for a dishwasher and use glass cups rather than disposable plastic cups.

Edwards encouraged residents to check out the Facebook pages for upcoming events sponsored by Plastic Free Islands St. John and Get Trashed. The next island clean up sponsored by Get Trashed will be held August 18 at Cinnamon Bay Campground at 10 a.m.

Gary Ray of Island Green Living Association said the organization recently hired a recycling director to head up the aluminum can recycling program. The organization is still seeking funding to rebuild its sustainable living center located in a storm-damaged structure near VITEMA headquarters in Susannaberg.

Ray also said the St. John Land Conservancy is looking to acquire “key pieces of land that are threatened with destruction of natural habitats, cultural resources, and public access.”

St. John Island Administrator Camille Paris said efforts are underway with the Center for Disease Control and the V.I. Department of Health to put in crosswalks in Cruz Bay as part of the walkability plan. The Water and Power Authority’s plan to bury power lines in Cruz Bay provides an opportunity to design and install sidewalks, he said.

Rob Tutton of Love City Community Network said the organization is continuing to refine its design of “solar pods” which will provide enough power for a typical two-bedroom home to be self-sustaining in terms of energy production and communications. The price for a pod is currently $7,500.

Steve DeBlasio of the Bloomberg Group said BBC is continuing to swap out existing power poles and replace them with the new composite poles “all the way to Miss Lucy’s. And Viya is doing an excellent job getting to the East End,” he added.

Debris collection is continuing on a limited basis, said DeBlasio. Residents should contact the Department of Public Works for further information.

Shared content for Virgin Islands Source and St. John Tradewinds.