Warning signs were erected after Tropical Storm Otto.
Many roadways across the territory were impacted by the heavy rains that soaked St. John in September and October, but the way one subdivision is possibly fixing their problems has caused controversy on island.
Several areas of Upper Carolina’s roads were undermined by the severe runoff from Tropical Storm Otto. While damage to Upper Carolina resident Carey Mercurio’s piece of the hillslide has not been missed by anyone who drives to Coral Bay along Centerline Road, there were also several additional areas on the subdivision’s estate roads that were undermined as the hillsides below them gave way.
Since the roads in Upper Carolina are private estate roads, the government can’t use public funds to fix them. The issues could potentially run up to the thousands, if not millions, however, Upper Carolina Land Owners’ Association officials have not gotten any estimates yet on how much it will cost to fix the roads.
Regardless of the final price tag, Upper Carolina officials have said that they don’t have the money to repair the dangerous conditions.
“We don’t have any idea how to fix what we’ve got either long-term or short-term,” Upper Carolina Land Owners Association President Gerry Hills previously told St. John Tradewinds. “And we have no way to pay for it.”
With the problem not about to go away, residents in the area are considering three options to get their roads fixed, explained Hills.
“We’re working with Senator [Louis] Hill and Senator at Large Craig Barshinger to find a way to get the roads repaired,” said Hills. “We’re doing three things. One thing is an Act that was passed by Senator Hill that has two parts to it.”
“One part is we can ask to get the Department of Public Works commissioner to repair the roads and keep them private if they are determined to be essential to the territory,” Hills said. “The other part of that Act is to petition the senate to turn the roads public and that would take a full meeting and a vote.”
Bill 25-0030, which became Act 6634, was passed in December 2003, and has two main sections. Title 20, Chapter 1, Section 3(a) deals with public use of private roads.
“A process is established whereby owners of a private (estate) road can collectively petition DPW to pave and repair their road by dedicating it as a public road, for public use,” according to information provided by Senator Louis Hill. “They give up the ability to keep it as a private road. This process is accomplished by having the owners sign a petition, sending a copy to the DPW, and asking a Senator to put in a bill request to make it a public road.”
The second part of the Act allows for the DPW commissioner to determine if the road is “essential for public use,” and does not require legislative approval.
“Title 20, Chapter 1, Section 3(b) allows the Commissioner of Public Works to determine that a private road is essential for public use and allows him to pave and repair it at the request of the owners of the road and at his own discretion,” according to information provided by Senator Hill. “No legislative approval is necessary, and the road remains a private road which is then open for use by the public.”
Upper Carolina Land Owners Association officials are also going through the process of requesting funds from the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair their roads, Hills explained.
“The third thing we’ve done is we’ve followed the process through VITEMA and FEMA to fill out all of the necessary forms and apply for funds,” said Hills. “We’re trying to work within the existing system and we’re very appreciative of Senators Hill and Barshinger for helping.”
While Upper Carolina Land Owners Association officials explore their potential options for assistance in fixing the roads, the idea that the association can turn their roads over to the government to repair has rubbed some St. John residents the wrong way.
“I am all for the government paying for Upper Carolina as long as my road gets paid for, Lala Land get paid for, Bordeaux gets paid for and Rupert’s junk yard hill gets paid for,” said Pam Gaffin. “And I’m sure there are other people who live on private roads who would also like to have their roads fixed for free.”
“Every property owner in Upper Carolina, when they bought their land, knew it was a private road that they had to maintain themselves,” Gaffin said. “I am not going to pay for their road to get fixed if they are not going to pay for mine. If they can get their road fixed, so can I and we might as well tell everyone that there is free money out there for the taking.”
While the October rains were not a normal weather occurrence, other subdivisions fared just fine, Gaffin pointed out.
“Privateer had no damage from the storm and they have steeper roads than Upper Carolina and had about three more inches of rain than Coral Bay got,” she said. “Sea Grape Hill didn’t have any damage, Quacco-Zimmerman didn’t have any damage, Chocolate Hole didn’t have any damage — only Upper Carolina.”
“Privateer has actually offered Upper Carolina to come out and tour their roads and see how you are supposed to do drainage,” said Gaffin. “They spend $2,000 a year and have a person who is full-time, maintaining and clearing the culverts and taking the silt out of their retention pond.”
For their part, Upper Carolina Land Owners Association officials maintain they are just working within the legal framework.
“We’re not money-grubbers demanding stuff,” said Hills. “We’re trying to work within the appropriate channels and at this point no one is really sure what is going to happen.”
The legislature was scheduled to go into session on Monday, November 22, to specifically deal with appropriating money to DPW for emergency road repairs across the territory.
“We are meeting in session on Monday and we’ll pass a few measures I hope that will reprogram money to fix any roads that are in need of repair,” said Senator Louis Hill. “Any emergencies that we have right now, we’re hopefully going to pass a bill to reprogram and repurpose money to DPW for the roads that need them first. We’re talking of about $8 million for the entire territory.”