Not Against Progress, for Common Sense

Letter to the Editor:

U.S. federal agencies which help the poor, as well as global agencies involved in “Third World” relief use a term called “Environmental Racism,” which refers to large companies that disregard the communities in which they develop their business through exploitation of whom they consider  ignorant locals.  

The company’s attitude is that they can develop in an area where the majority are poor people of color in a region that is economically depressed. Thanks to local politicians lining their own pockets, these large companies do not have to abide by strict taxes and regulations.

The impact of the development or company on the community is many fold. The wages are low and the company/developer will import their higher-paying jobs such as managers, supervisors and CEOs, and use the local people as the lower- paid employees. The local government usually signs a contract with the  company/developer, which gets a 10-year break on taxes and utilities and land taxes.  

However, the community itself pays for the company/developer’s lower taxes in the form of higher land and school taxes on the local population. This happened in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when Californians and Texas oil interests came to the state, drove up the land taxes with their pots of money from higher out-of-state wages and eventually created a homeless problem in Santa Fe in the 1990’s where older Hispanics lost family homes and land that they’d had for generations once they couldn’t pay the taxes.  

“Environmental Racism” means destruction on a holistic level — the community, air, water, health, infrastructure, taxes, economy, culture and the well-being of future generations.

They know the rules and laws won’t be enforced, that it will take the locals years to figure out what was happening, and by then, the company/business would have milked out all the large profits for very little outlay. The company/business does what they want to do, circumvents any existing laws, breaks laws and restrictions, and then innocently claims they “didn’t know” when in reality they did, and part of their business plan was counting on the local citizens to be too stupid and ignorant to do anything about it.  

These companies want to be here; they would come even without all the tax breaks. In fact, the Virgin Islands gives away for free its greatest bargaining chips…location and demand. Instead, the V.I. politicians should be asking for concessions from the companies to improve the lives of the residents.  

You want to build a store? Okay, we need a new basketball court for teens mid-island. You want to build a hotel? Okay, the road needs to be widened and repaved at your expense, and we need a written contract from you saying a certain percentage of Virgin Islanders will be used in managerial positions, and if they do not meet the requirements, you will train them for it.  

Notice, this is managerial positions, not housekeeping, groundskeeping, or kitchen help. You want to build a Tuscan Village in the middle of Cruz Bay? Okay, where are your plans for building and maintaining the infrastructure to support it?  Where are your contracts to have a proportionate number of Virgin Islands legal tax-paying residents employed at all different levels of operation — from ground floor to upper management.  

What social services will you provide for your employees? Child care? Maternity leave for mothers? Family leave for fathers? Insurance plans? When you have these plans in line, sure, come back and talk with us about permitting. When you have something that will benefit our citizens on a long-term, fair paying basis, then, sure, we can begin to talk.   

We only want to know what you will be adding to our community, making sure our own youth can stay and be employed in the future. Of course, this will also mean having to sponsor a school on island, and do fundraisers since the education budget somehow doesn’t filter down into the classroom the way we locals manage it.

And last, will you have a social conscience? If you are in power here you must follow your “conscience,” not the will of the people who trusted and put you in place. So hopefully for us, your conscience will be a good one, and you will be watching out for local St. Johnians.

At a million and a half dollars per unit we can’t buy your condos, and can only ask you and the politicians who abet you, to consider the old folktale about not killing the goose that lays the golden egg. If you don’t want the bottom to fall out of the tourist dollar pot, you have to also provide what the tourists come here for — a fantasy idea  of an island vacation, the illusion of being somewhere different from back home.

Home is where they already have two-story cement parking garages, but no Nature’s Nook, where they have strip malls with sad, depressing bars, but no local Patrick’s with real people hanging out. They also have too much traffic, smog, diesel fumes, congestion, and they are already asking, “What’s happening here?”

Nobody is against progress. Most people are just for common sense. Not everyone thinks they know better than local Virgin Islanders, it’s just we newcomers have lost so much we just kind of want to help you not make our same mistakes and learn the hard way.  

Once you lose the precious treasure of what was your precious island and your home and your culture, it is almost impossible to go back.

From the heart…because I’m no better than anyone else.

Judith Kane
St. John