With more than 50 people present by 10 a.m., island residents took full advantage of the opportunity to share concerns with government agency heads, packing the St. John Battery on Thursday morning, January 29, in the first of planned monthly open house meetings hosted by St. John Administrator Leona Smith.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Robert Mathes, Department of Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, V.I. Waste Management Authority Director May Adams Cornwall and Senator at Large Craig Barshinger got an earful of complaints and compliments from St. John residents, most of whom were excited to see the high-ranking officials face to face.
While Delory “Ital” Anthony was happy to talk one-on-one with Cornwall, he was surprised at how little the commissioners knew about the island of St. John, he explained.
More Communication Needed
“I was able to express myself, but I think we need more communication with this administration,” said Anthony. “It’s hard to believe but a lot of these people don’t know what’s going on here. We need more transparency and we need to have these meetings more often.”
Pam Gaffin took the opportunity to tell DPW St. John Deputy Director Ira Wade’s boss what a good job he does on St. John roads, she explained.
“I’m here to speak to the commissioner of Public Works and tell him what a great job Ira Wade does and ask for more money so he can do more good work for us,” Gaffin said.
Julius E. Sprauve School principal Mario Francis came out to get the inside scoop on the Cruz Bay round-about construction project, which abuts the school’s lower grade annex.
“I came to see if I could talk to DPW Commissioner Smalls about the round-about,” said Francis. “It’s not that I don’t believe the crew on the road, but it’s always good to get the information from the top.”
Norman Gledhill wanted to know when WMA officials would start removing the thousands of abandoned vehicles piled up at the Susanaberg Transfer Station.
“I think May Cornwall was interested in my concerns and listened to what I had to say,” said Gledhill. “She said there would be action in starting to remove the vehicles in six weeks. If they don’t take action, we’ll have to do things legally on our own.’
“We don’t have any representation here, so we’ll just have to see what happens,” Gledhill said.
Seniors Left With No Ride
A group of St. John senior citizens, who have been without a promised van for transportation, expressed their outrage at being overlooked.
“We were promised a bus when the Adrian Senior Citizens’ Center was opened and we still have nothing,” said one senior citizen. “We want to know what happened and when we’re going to get our transportation. We’re always so worried about offending anyone, but now we’re the ones being offended.”
Barshinger offered to help the group by outlining a three point plan to prompt action on the senior bus issue.
“First of all, get everyone you know to call the Department of Human Services and note the time and date of your call and who you talked to,” said the Senator at Large. “If you don’t get a response, come to my office and we’ll draft a letter from you on behalf of the Adrian Senior Center. If you still don’t get a response, then I’ll draft a letter on paper with the senate letterhead.”
Barshinger Promises Help
“I’ll remind the department that they get their funds from the legislature and ask why they haven’t responded to the fine people of St. John who deserve their bus,” said Barshinger. “We will not let you be forgotten.”
It’s high time for officials to stop spending the island’s Capital Improvement Fund on trash hauling, according to Steve Black.
“We want our Capital Improvement Fund money back,” said Black. “That money is being taken to haul our trash to St. Thomas. This is a terrible situation for us and we want what is due us.”
“Starting right now, trash hauling should come out of the WMA budget and our Capital Improvement Fund should be used for capital improvements,” Black said.
No Infrastructure for Development
Phillip “Grasshopper” Pickering wanted to get some answers from DPNR officials about unchecked development on St. John, he explained.
“I want to hear from DPNR about the building situation on St. John,” said Pickering. “I want to hear what DPW says about our infrastructure. What are we going to do when Pond Bay Club and Sirenusa open?”
“Traffic is crazy already and we don’t have infrastructure in place to handle these new developments,” Pickering said.
St. John residents deserve the same services enjoyed by residents of St. Thomas and St. Croix, explained Barshinger.
“I am very excited that the executive branch is connecting people of the Virgin Islands, and St. John especially, with the government’s top executives,” said the Senator at Large. “St. John needs and deserves the same services as all Virgin Islanders. I am here to listen and facilitate that process as a legislator.”
What About the Planner?
The Senator at Large was also interested in hearing about the long-promised and not filled St. John Planner position, he added.
“I understand that several people here today have been asking what happened to the planner that I and my colleagues appropriated funds for in 2006,” said Barshinger.
Since the commissioners spoke one-on-one with each resident, the large crowd meant long lines of people waiting for private interviews.
“They need to do this more often, so there isn’t such a back log of people waiting here,” said Gaffin.
“It’s a little noisy and a little crowded,” said Sharon Coldren, president of the Coral Bay Community Council. “They might want to think of getting a different venue where there will be more room and less noise.”
Police and Justice Officials Coming Next
Administrator Smith was pleased with the turnout and promised to hold commissioners to their words, she explained.
“We expected a lot of people, but this turnout is amazing,” she said. “We will make sure that the commissioners fulfill their promises. We will follow through and make sure things are accomplished.”
The next open house at the Battery — planned for sometime in February — will feature V.I. Police Department Commissioner James McCall and Department of Justice officials, Smith added.