St. John Tradewinds News

Coral Bay Residents Claim Harassment and Intimidation by DPNR Enforcement Officers

 

This DPNR Environmental Enforcement officer standing on the Coral Bay dinghy dock, at right, clearly has his automatic rifle out.

DPNR Environmental Enforcement officers boarded this trimaran, above, with guns drawn during a sweep through Coral Bay harbor last week.

Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Environmental Enforcement officers reportedly swept through Coral Bay harbor on Wednesday, July 25, with guns drawn, cut legal mooring lines, fouled other mooring lines and harassed several residents, according to numerous eyewitnesses.

While DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes tried to keep about 150 residents who attended a public hearing the next night on proposed mooring and anchoring fee increases (see related stories in this week’s edition) from discussing the Coral Bay incident, residents would not be silenced.

 11-year-old Gabe Brooker detailed dangerous actions by the division’s officers in Coral Bay last week.

“I love my home in Coral Bay; the community is nice,” 11-year-old Gabe Brooker said at the July 26 DPNR meeting at the Westin Resort and Villas. “I love my school and I love the KATS program. People are really nice and I feel safe in Coral Bay.”

“On Wednesday when I was walking down the dock, a man was waving a gun and I didn’t feel very safe,” said Brooker.

Brooker’s testimony got no response from DPNR officials, except for a large grin and audible laugh from DPNR Director of Enforcement Roberto Tapia, who sat at the front of the room during the meeting.

The Guy Benjamin School student was not the only person to share concerns at the meeting about DPNR Enforcement officers’ actions in Coral Bay earlier in the week.

“Enforcement officers had their guns pulled and were demanding people’s ID and taking pictures of IDs,” said Colin Hanson. “They treated a lot of people like they were criminals. They were being downright dangerous.”

“I am upset about DPNR being on the dock with guns,” said John Costanzo. “Those are my grandchildren and my friends.”

DPNR Enforcement officers were spotted around 9 a.m. in Coral Bay harbor on July 25 and were seen cutting a legal mooring line, according to eyewitnesses.

When DPNR’s vessel got fouled in another mooring line, several boaters in the area laughed, which might have prompted the officer’s Coral Bay dinghy dock gun display, according to witnesses.

“They were laughing when they cut a legal mooring line,” said one eyewitness. “When they fouled their motor on a mooring line, we laughed. And then they drew their rifle and demanded to see everyone’s ID.”

There were several residents in the area and several small children, including Brooker and at least one toddler, who were present when the officers waved their guns around, according to eyewitnesses.

Several DPNR Enforcement officers also targeted Coral Bay Marine, which has been in business for more than 25 years, according to eyewitnesses.

When officers demanded, at gun point, to see Coral Bay Marine’s business license, which had been paid for but not yet received by Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, the officers threatened to shut the business down, eyewitnesses explained.

While the officers eventually backed down from the threat, their business in Coral Bay was not complete.

DPNR Enforcement officers were spotted again in the Coral Bay area on Thursday morning, July 26, when they put removal stickers on St. John Kids and the Sea vessels (KATS) for not having proper registrations, according to witnesses.

KATS is a non-profit, volunteer-run youth sailing program which DPNR does not charge to register vessels. KATS officials have been trying to renew their fleet’s registration for weeks and the stickers are still being processed, explained Thatcher Lord.

“Enforcement officers stickered all KATS boats and threatened to remove them within 48 hours,” said Lord. “We’ve been waiting for stickers to come, since they have been being processed for several weeks. We tried to tell them this, but it didn’t matter.”

Despite raising thousands of dollars to support the Emmaus Moravian Church, the local public elementary school and more, boaters in Coral Bay are routinely treated like second class citizens, explained Philip Stringer.

“We have a sense that we are considered second class citizens or worse,” said Stringer. “We have raised large amounts of money to benefit the community. We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Moravian Church and Guy Benjamin School.”

“We also organize twice yearly clean ups of the entire harbor area in collaboration with Department of Public Works,” Stringer said. “We are not violent and we are not criminals. Yet we seem to get picked on.”

Although Barnes refused to discuss DPNR Enforcement officers’ actions during last week’s mooring fee meeting, she said her office had started a preliminary investigation and had spoken to several residents about the incidents.

Barnes encouraged anyone who wished to file a complaint against DPNR Enforcement officers to call her St. Thomas office at 714-9504 or email her at alicia.barnes@dpnr.gov.vi.