Senate President Hill Hears Residents’ Concerns on Self Governance, Parking and More

Above: The panel at Senate President Louis Patrick Hill’s Wednesday evening, February 10, public meeting at the Westin Resort included Deputy Commissioner of Education Donna Gregory, St. John Deputy Chief of Police Darren Foy, Senator Patrick Simeon Sprauve, St. John Administrator Leona Smith, Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Robert Mathes and Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Clair Williams.

Senate President Louis Patrick Hill made it clear that he expected to leave his Wednesday evening, February 10, public meeting with some concrete solutions to St. John residents’ concerns.

Approximately 100 people attended the meeting at the Westin Resort, and some who testified offered their own solutions to problems which have long plagued Love City.

Many of the island’s issues have stemmed from a lack of self governance, explained resident Paul Devine.

Devine recommended Love City receive five percent of each government department’s budget, based on the fact that five percent of the Virgin Islands population resides on St. John. He also proposed an island council form of government where members are elected locally and given executive power, which current island administrators lack.

“I hope our government officials will finally realize that St. John is as viable and important to the Virgin Islands as are St. Thomas and St. Croix,” said Devine. “I would not be understating by saying that representation by our elected officials is poor at best, or in some cases, non-existent. Government representation is sorely lacking.”

Several of those in attendance debated the best way to go about improving representation for St. John, without requiring an act of Congress.
Longtime resident Lonnie Willis emphasized the importance of budgeting monies specifically for St. John, rather than for the St. Thomas-St. John district as a whole.

“Without money, it’s meaningless,” said Willis. “If St. John doesn’t have money, we’ll never have any power.”

In the absence of change in how funds are budgeted and how St. John is governed, the island can gain some footing by having government representatives stationed right in Love City, according to St. Johnian Ronnie Jones, who lauded Hill’s recent hiring of Bonny Corbeil as his St. John representative.

“My biggest concern is having someone who represents the senators on St. John,” said Jones. “We’ve been neglected of that opportunity.”

Local real estate agent B.J. Harris, who wears several hats on the island, asked Hill for his help with issues facing the organizations with which she is involved. With the help of the Virgin Islands Legislature in purchasing a piece of land, the St. John Animal Care Center – which currently receives $25,000 a year from the Department of Agriculture – could eventually become financially self-sufficient, explained Harris.

“We need a small piece of land in the country,” she said. “We can get the architectural plans for free, and we can have the building constructed. We can become self-sufficient by offering things like boarding services and a pet shop.”

Harris asked Hill for his consideration in including a new home for the ACC with the construction of a new school in the Estate Catherineberg area, and Hill pledged his support.

A public meeting on St. John would not be complete without the topic of parking being raised, and several residents asked Hill about various parking problems in Cruz Bay including derelict cars being left next to the lot at Nature’s Nook.

“Someone is in that lot each week checking for derelict cars,” said Department of Public Works St. John Deputy Director Ira Wade.

Residents also asked what to do about on-duty taxi drivers blocking public parking places. St. John Deputy Police Chief Darren Foy assured the audience they are allowed to ask taxi drivers to move if they are blocking a parking space, and encouraged residents to call the V.I. Police Department if they need further assistance.

St. Johnian Edmund Roberts raised two of his “pet peeves” – boat pollution and the lack of striping on Centerline Road.

“We need to stripe the road,” said Roberts, whose comment was met with applause from the audience of nearly 100 people. “I am getting old and I have trouble seeing at night. I cannot see where the road ends.”

Wade assured the crowd that the road striping machine would be on island in March.

“My guys will learn how to run it because I don’t like being dependent on anyone,” he said.

Roberts recalled playing in mangroves and seagrass beds as a child, and commented on how different those environmental resources are today as a result of pollution from liveaboard boats.

By 2011, Coral Bay liveaboards will be required to show a receipt from a pump out station, or to be monitored by Department of Planning and Natural Resources as they go three miles away from shore to pump out, explained the department’s director of environmental enforcement, Roberto Tapia.

Carol Beckowitz, who works under Senator at Large Craig Barshinger, questioned DPNR’s ability to follow up on the new rules.
“I’ve called seven to eight time for violations, and not once has DPNR been able to send someone out,” said Beckowitz. “You’re understaffed and your boats are sometimes not working.”

DPNR is increasing manpower and vessels, and should be ready to enforce the new rules by 2011, explained Tapia. The DPNR director of environmental enforcement estimated 65 percent of boats in Coral Bay would leave the territory once the new rules come into effect.

St. John resident Steve Black raised his concern over Governor John deJongh’s recent veto of the portion of the omnibus bill which would have removed solid waste collection and disposal from the authorized uses of the St. John Capital Improvement Fund.

Hill, Barshinger and Senator Patrick Simeon Sprauve encouraged the audience to call their senators urging them to override the veto.
“Call every senator,” said Barshinger. “We’ll override this.”

Under questioning by residents, DPNR Commissioner Bob Mathes divulged information on the new St. John planner, including his name – T. Stuart Smith.

“The St. John planner will be on island in the next two weeks, and he expects to hit the ground running,” said Mathes. “He was thoroughly vetted as it relates to his experience. I hope and pray everything will work nicely.”

Smith is a young single man from North Carolina who is both personable and very hands-on, Mathes added.

Also present at the meeting were Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Donna Gregory, St. John Administrator Leona Smith and Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Clair Williams.