Residents Raise Concerns and Offer Ideas To Improve Life on St. John

CRUZ BAY — Activities for seniors, help for the homeless, improved emergency services, supervised recreation for youth, parking shortages, access roads and fishing rights were among the issues raised during the first in a series of town hall meetings hosted by Sen. Almando “Rocky” Liburd.

More than 50 St. John residents turned out for the informal discussion at the Legislative Annex in Cruz Bay on Thursday evening. Sen. Liburd was joined by three colleagues – Senators Jean Forde, Tregenza Roach and Justin Harrigan. Senator Myron Jackson was represented by a staff member.

Sen. Liburd told those present that it was up to them to set the evening’s agenda, however he started off the meeting by providing updates on some of the matters he had been addressing during his first 100 days in office, to include property taxes, the lack of Government services on St. John and the island’s complex relationship with the V.I. National Park.

The Senator-at-Large also provided updates on his efforts to help St. John Rescue, an all-volunteer organization that provides many essential services to the people of St. John, to include transporting the deceased.  However, St. John Rescue was forced to end this service because of liability issues. Sen. Liburd said he had been working with the Justice Department over the last few weeks to find a solution.

“We all know of that recent sad situation where a family had to transport their deceased loved one in their own car – that should never happen,” Sen. Liburd said. “The good news is that I spoke to the Attorney General at length again today and she has assured me that this will be resolved by noon tomorrow.”

This news brought applause from the audience and a thank you from St. John Rescue’s Bob Malacarne.

“Senator Liburd has been an absolute treasure for us,” Malacarne said. “He has rescued St. John Rescue a number of times.”

Malacarne said that St. John Rescue performed  at least equivalent services as similar organizations on St. Thomas and St. Croix, yet only received a third of the Government funding. Sen. Liburd pledged to continue to work to help what he considers a vital organization and has been working to identify money for new “Jaws of Life” equipment.

The Senator-at-Large told residents that he had been in contact by phone with the attorney for the visiting family that was sickened last month by pesticides at the Sirenusa property and that he had also sent the family a letter expressing concern for their well being.

“I let them know that everyone in our community feels their pain,” he said. “We really need to get to  the bottom of how something like this could happen.”

St. John resident Melville Samuel told those assembled that six generations of his family had fished off St. John in order to feed themselves, but that they are being increasingly restricted by V.I. National Park regulations.

“I’m glad the park is on St. John, however I have a beef with the park,” Samuel said.

Sen. Liburd said he understands the frustration of those dealing with the park as they often feel like they have no recourse. He said he would continue discussions with National Park leadership on fishing and property rights and that he was prepared to take some matters to court if compromises couldn’t be reached.

Several residents testified about the need to offer increased services and activities for both the island’s youth and senior populations, particularly in Coral Bay. Sen. Liburd said he supported turning the recently closed Guy Benjamin Elementary School into a multipurpose community center, to include a public computing center offering Internet access and skills training.

“I recently spoke to Governor Mapp at length about this,” the Senator-at-Large said.

Senator Liburd thanked all those in attendance for what he later described as an “especially constructive” meeting. He said St. John’s next meeting will be in Coral Bay.

“We have paid very close attention to what you have said here tonight and we will be following up – particularly on the property tax issue – which I hope my colleagues will work with me to resolve before next year’s bills are sent out,” Sen. Liburd concluded.

At the close of the meeting the senator provided all those interested with copies of Act 6991, which lays out many of the laws regulating V.I. property taxes.