Tour for Congressional Delegation Highlights Progress on St. John

Work on the temporary modular clinic at the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Clinic is approaching completion, and officials are looking towards a late September opening.

The work on the clinic was on display Saturday when a Congressional delegation led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi toured St. John, along with St. Thomas and Puerto Rico.

At the clinic site, 11 modular units have been connected to form approximately 3,500 square feet of interior space, according to Darryl Smalls, Schneider Regional Medical Center’s vice-president facilities management.

Smalls said the clinic is now connected to the power grid and is awaiting minor alterations to accommodate the staff. The clinic will offer radiology services, a laboratory, emergency services, and general care.

Before it can open, it must be approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that regulates participation in the federal healthcare programs, and the Joint Commission. Smalls said an opening date has not yet been set, but he’s aiming for late September.

The clinic was just one of the stops for Pelosi’s group of 14 members of Congress, including V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, to examine the rate of progress and the challenges still looming on the island devastated by Hurricane Irma last September.

In addition to the clinic, the delegation visited Caneel Bay, the schools, and a fire station.

Schneider Regional Hospital is “hardening” a corner of the Keating clinic – which received the least amount of damage by the storm – to store supplies for the modular clinic and serve as a shelter for staff in the event of another catastrophic hurricane.

“Staffing will be sufficient by the time we move up to the clinic,” Smalls said. “We remain committed to providing quality health care for visitors and residents of St. Thomas and St. John.

Since late September 2017, the staff has been working out of the Morris F. DeCastro Clinic in Cruz Bay.

As for the fate of the storm-damaged Keating Clinic, Smalls said he was awaiting assessment by federal entities, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA, and the Virgin Islands Government.

Caneel Bay Still Awaits Repairs

After viewing the clinic, the delegation traveled to the north shore of St. John to see the hurricane’s effect on the Virgin Islands National Park and to Caneel Bay Resort, which is situated on 170 acres within the park.

The iconic hotel, built by Laurance Rockefeller when he helped establish the Virgin Islands National Park in 1956, suffered major damage from Irma.

Plaskett has sponsored a bill in Congress to allow CBI Acquisitions, which owns Caneel Bay, to maintain control of the property for 60 years beginning in 2023 when the present agreement expires. The bill, HR 4731, cleared the House Committee on Natural Resources in March, but has generated controversy since then.

Proponents of the bill say a 60-year extension is needed to recoup the estimated $100 million investment needed to rebuild the resort. Caneel Bay management says the hotel provides employment for nearly 400 workers and generates approximately $65 million to the economy of St. John each year through direct revenue generation plus ancillary spending at restaurants, bars, retail and recreational services.

Opponents to the bill say that it short circuits the process set by Laurance Rockefeller to control development within the V.I. National Park. In addition to offering far too little protection to the park’s cultural and natural resources, they say the bill gives CBIA sole control of the property without competitive bidding.

At Caneel Bay, the delegation was given a tour of the property by Brad Dow, the resort’s executive director, and Patrick Kidd.

Tour passes Cruz Bay school site

The blue modular units are being installed on the ballfield to replace the damaged classrooms at the Julius E. Sprauve School. One of the damaged building is in the right foreground.

As the delegation passed through Cruz Bay, members were able to see the ball field which was being prepared for the installation of modular units to replace the hurricane-damaged Julius E. Sprauve School.

The first 16 of the 24 modular units that will be paired to make 12 classrooms arrived on Sunday, according to Keva Muller, director of Public Relations and Communications for the V.I. Department of Education.

The modular units, which come outfitted with wheels, were transported from Red Hook, St. Thomas on the barge General II and were then pulled by trucks to the field.

The school also is slated to get a “Sprung shelter” which can serve as an auditorium and units for bathrooms and administration.

The delegation drove across the island to Coral Bay, pausing to note damage to the road that connects the small communities at the east end of the island, according to Eric Adams, media relations specialist for FEMA. They stopped to look at the Guy Benjamin School, which has been closed for several years because of declining enrollment but has become a site for after-school programs and community meetings. Once all of the operating public schools are up and running, modular units will be placed at the Guy Benjamin School to continue those programs, Muller said.

Coral Bay Fire Station gets new hurricane-proof doors

The Congressional tour also included a stop at the Coral Bay Fire Station. Firefighters there have relocated to a temporary site in Calabash Boom while new windows and doors are installed at the station. Adams said 14 windows, six doors, and one double-door are being outfitted with roll-down shutters that can withstand wind speeds of up to 200 mph.

The fire station will also have a battery-operated system to power the doors in the event of an electrical outage.

Shared content for Virgin Islands Source and St. John Tradewinds.