VINP Superintendent Brion FitzGerald, center, and management staff with St. John Adminstrator Camille Paris, far left.
CRUZ BAY — Virgin Islands National Park Superintendent Brion FitzGerald didn’t even try to sugar-coat his assessment of the fiscal condition of the St. John park when he and three members of his small administrative staff met with more than 40 residents at a May 26 “town meeting” called by St. John Administrator Camille Paris.
“It is a very, very difficult job, especially with the budget cuts,” Supt. FitzGerald acknowledged of the management of the St. John park. The VINP is “very short of staff,” including having no plumbers or masons, he explained.
“We are so short of staff every single day that it might impact public health,” Fitzgerald told the audience of more than 40 residents who had gathered to air concerns about VINP public relations.
“Maintenance staffing is critical,” FitzGerald said. “We are one person away from failure — (from) wastewater to (potable) water systems.”
One New Protection Ranger
The VINP only has two protection rangers on staff, with one new one — “a local attending law enforcement training” — coming on at the end of July, the superintendent said. “We hope to have her here on island in next couple of weeks.”
The VINP is “perpetually” short-staffed, FitzGerald admitted — to the point the park administration is planning “to put more of the money we collect (in fees) into paying for collection.”
The park’s world-renowned beaches are “short staffed as well” when it comes to lifeguards, Supt. FitzGerald acknowledged. The park has “just four lifeguards,” he said.
“On busy days we can have two (lifeguard) stands open,” Supt. FitzGerald said. “Most days we can only keep one stand open.”
“We are doing our best, we would like to have more,” he admitted.
Overall, the VINP is having difficulty hiring locally, the superintendent admitted.
“The problem is we don’t have a lot of jobs for kids just coming out of college,” Supt. FitzGerald said of the VINP’s numerous “one of a kind” positions.
“The problem is when you only have one you need someone with experience,” the park official explained.
“We were looking to hire locals and the best would be to hire local veterans,” he said. “We pushed very hard to reach out in an attempt to identify qualified candidates.”
The most recent park hires have been U.S. military veterans, Supt. FitzGerald announced. “None of the veterans is from the Virgin Islands.”
Supt. FitzGerald acknowledged things would be even worse were it not for the funds from user fees and the Friends of the V.I. National Park which most recently have supported repairs and rehabilitation to visitor restrooms.
Park officials are also preparing to accept bids to repairs the road to Francis Bay and for a pre-construction meeting for the rehabilitation of Trunk Bay restrooms, Supt. FitzGerald said.
Plans to repair the Lameshur Road were never completed and are on hold, he added.