St. John Residents Get One-Stop Interface with Multiple Agencies

Former Senator-At-Large Robert O'Connor Jr. raises concerns about St. John while the current office holder, Steven Payne, listens. The discussion took place as part of a Town Hall meeting held Friday night in Cruz Bay.
Former Senator-At-Large Robert O’Connor Jr. raises concerns about St. John while the current office holder, Steven Payne, listens. The discussion took place as part of a Town Hall meeting held Friday night in Cruz Bay.

Agency heads representing law enforcement, public schools, the public power company, road conditions and solid waste managers spent two hours Friday fielding questions from residents of St. John.

The town meeting was organized by newly seated Senator-At-Large Steven Payne, who facilitated dialogue between government agency leaders and the public they serve.

Many of the issues raised Friday dealt with conditions brought about by the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. Among them were:

– Fixing rutted roads,

– An overabundance of abandoned cars at the gravel parking lot near the Cruz Bay tennis court,

– A change of plans for the former Guy Benjamin School site in Coral Bay,

– How long modular classrooms for the Julius E. Sprauve School would occupy the Winston Wells Ballpark, and

– Whether there would be a deal between local and federal governments for use of the National Park Ballfield.

Some questions pre-dated the 2017 storms and had grown more acute since then, particularly the island-wide blight of overflowing trash bins.

There was also the years-old question for a new public school complex.

Former Sprauve School Principal Dionne Wells Hedrington — now chief operating officer at the Department of Education — sounded an optimistic note. Disasters like the one the territory underwent often come with silver linings. And, she added, the circumstances brought about by long-term recovery may move a permanent school solution to the forefront.

Albert Willis, 77, asked Education Commissioner designee Racquel Berry-Benjamin if the new school would be done before he was. She assured him that it would.

Benjamin also mentioned that Education has signed a memorandum of agreement with a non-profit organization, allowing the former Coral Bay public school to be handed over for use as a community center.

In recent weeks, there had also been hopes raised that the loss of Winston Wells Ballpark — the former recreation field for adjacent Sprauve School — would be relieved through a deal between Sports, Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service. The prospects of such a deal were mentioned at the annual meeting of Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park.

But Ian Samuel, former staffer at SP&R, now working with a local non-profit, said there does not appear to be a deal at this time.

Public Works roadway engineer Atlee Connor told the audience about his personal inspection of 17 damaged portions of public roads on St. John. Payne questioned him about the solution to a portion of Centerline Road in Estate Adrian.

Because a well field runs underground, Connor said the repair would require an approach similar to the one taken on St. Thomas’s Brookman Road. Flood control, drainage and a concrete foundation would likely be used, he said.

The next steps would require planning, design and funding with the likelihood that two road projects would come about the soonest, Connor said. He was not clear which two of the 17 that would be.

Clinton Hendrington from the Water and Power Authority announced progress on plans to install two emergency generators for the island; one for Cruz Bay, one in Coral Bay. The plans also predate the storms, arising from a 2014 federal consent decree to bring WAPA into compliance with the Clean Air Act.

But frustration surfaced when officials of the Waste Management Authority spoke at the town meeting. Overflowing bins are a frequent sight in Cruz Bay and island wide.

Several residents suggested the problem had gone on so long that health problems were beginning to appear in the proliferation of rats around the dump sites.

“Please put one large trash bin near the school and empty it daily so the children don’t have to contend with rats,” said former EMT Elaine Estern.

Payne said that he would continue to encourage public exchanges between the community and the government.