ST. JOHN—The Committee on Government Services, Consumer and Veterans Affairs, chaired by Sen. Justin Harrigan Sr., met at the Cleone Henrietta Creque Legislative Conference Room on St. John Monday evening, to receive a status update on the limited barge services between St. Thomas and St. John.
Sen. Justin Harrigan Sr., said that the meeting was necessary to discuss the limited services and the subsequent “impact on Virgin Islands residents, its businesses and overall economy. It’s important that these issues be aired,” he said.
Representatives from various government entities as well as the private sector shared some of their challenges.
Arlene Chalwell, Deputy Police Chief for the St. John District Leander Jurgen Zone-D Command, said in her testimony that the limited services delayed the department’s ability to transport supplies, equipment and vehicles that allowed the department to provide sufficient safety to communities as well as basic services like providing police reports and records.
“Moving forward, it is imperative that proactive measures are implemented to prevent such dire situations from reoccurring in the near future,” she said.
Sen. Janette Millin Young said that she understood the impact to be “a bread and butter issue” as the tourism product in St. John is the main source of economic support. Although the service was not halted,” she said, “it slowed down.” When we’re talking about an island that is separated by a body of water, then you’re sort of paralyzed.”
Though Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Newton, Supervisor of Marine Safety Detachment in St. Thomas U.S. Coast Guard was unable to attend, she provided a statement that was read into the record.
“The Coast Guard’s priorities are to safeguard the lives of the people who utilize these vessels, ensure the safety of the maritime transportation system and help facilitate safe maritime commerce in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coast Guard Marine Inspectors remain committed to performing any required inspections in a timely manner to ensure the vessels are structurally sound and meet the regulatory standards for a certificated vessel to safely transport passengers and vehicles,” she said in her testimony.
Carlton Dowe, Executive Director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority also testified. During the discussion, Dowe noted that while he understood the frustration, providing a solution like expansion would take time.
“Maintaining these facilities is not easy,” he said. “Unlike some islands in the Caribbean where you can wake up tomorrow and tear out a mangrove or fill in a pond, in the United States Virgin Islands,
it [doesn’t] happen that way. We must go through a process,” he said, naming some of the many facets including the Army Core of Engineers, fisheries and the Coast Guard. “By the time that process takes place I will guarantee you years have gone by.”
“The Port Authority’s board is concerned about the lack of sufficient barge service and the impact it has caused on our community, our tourism product and our port operations,” he said. “We have done our best to respond to the public outcry by appearing on local radio talk shows to explain the reasons for lack of service.”
“We hope to have some resolution to this issue in the very near future, and we will keep the public abreast of any new developments,” Dowe said.
Committee members, Senators Myron D. Jackson, Positive T. A. Nelson. Tregenza A. Roach, and Janette Millin Young were present. Non-committee members, Jean A. Forde and Almando “Rocky” Liburd were also present.
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Press Release for August 22, 2016 150822-STJ