Senate President Kenneth Gittens says he plans to prioritize repairs on the abandoned fish market at La Reine on St. Croix, the senator said in a news release issued Wednesday.
Creating a safe and sanitary place for fishermen to clean and sell their catch is crucial to sustaining the local fishing industry and preserving long standing cultural traditions, Gittens said following a recent tour of the dilapidated market.
While the market, adjacent to the bustling La Reine Farmer’s Market, is technically abandoned, fish mongers sell their wares near the location out of the backs of pickup trucks.
Opened in 2002 at a cost of $205,000, the fish market was shut in November 2007 after a newspaper report cataloging problems with the market prompted a closer look by the V.I. Health Department. That inspection found poor drainage and plumbing, unsanitary bathrooms and other maintenance problems.
Inspectors found full waste tanks, drains clogged with fish scales, and broken restrooms. Fishermen, perhaps surprisingly, applauded the closure at the time, with many saying conditions had deteriorated to a point where closing was necessary for repairs. Vandals jammed the drains with crushed beer cans.
In 2010, the Legislature approved bond funding for the La Reine work and $650,000 was nominally appropriated from several sources, but bids came in well above that figure. More money was appropriated in 2014.
At many times in the past, senators have appropriated sums from sources which did not actually have the requisite money, or for amounts insufficient to carry out the work. Some projects are long-delayed for other reasons, including being a low priority for whichever administration is in office.
According to Gittens, one of his first official acts this term was to call upon the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, which manages the fish market property, to determine what resources were required to reopen this once vibrant facility, according to the lawmaker’s statement.
Gittens said little has been done to prevent the deterioration of the fish market, which sustained further damage in Hurricanes Irma and Maria and has become littered with trash and graffiti.
“The La Reine Fish Market is sitting in such a busy area of our community and is a real eyesore that must be addressed,” Gittens said. “After meeting with the new DPNR commissioner nominee, I am confident this project will be prioritized.”
During a walk-through of the facility last week, Gittens said it is long past time to address plumbing and structural issues so that the La Reine Fish Market can be utilized for the purpose for which it was built.
“The Legislature has repeatedly appropriated funding to help make repairs and to date, we have not seen improvements,” he said. “I recently did a walk-through at the Fish Market with commissioner nominee for the Planning and Natural Resources Department, Jean-Pierre Oriol, and as a result of my inquiries the commissioner was able to determine that significant funds for repairs remain unexpended.”
Gittens said he will review plans for improvements to ensure that no additional resources are required, but that he would like to see the fish market back in operation as soon as is possible.
“I am going to continue to work closely with Commissioner Oriol and his team to ensure the fish market rehabilitation remains a priority,” Gittens said.