Residents Question Officials on Enighed Pond Project and Traffic at Town Meeting

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Senator Craig Barshinger shows where dredge material is being stored on the Enighed Pond commercial port project.

A town meeting giving residents the opportunity to question V.I. Port Authority (VIPA) and V.I. Public Works Department (PWD) officials on issues such as the Enighed Pond Project and downtown parking, was resumed by Senator at Large Craig Barshinger on Friday, October 28.

The forum was a continuation of a meeting held in early October to address concerns of residents.

“Several residents had expressed concerns in these areas at an October 7 hearing, and we could not address it at the time because the proper government officials were not available at the meeting,” Sen. Barshinger said. “I wanted to have a forum where the residents could question the officials directly and have their concerns addressed.”

Parking Verification Committee
Sen. Barshinger announced the formation of a Parking Spot Verification Committee comprised of residents who investigate whether businesses have the required amount of parking spaces.

“Businesses violating this law are immigrants from the states who should know better,” he said.

Several residents questioned VIPA’s recent decision to allocate parking at the Port Authority’s U.S. Customs lot to the new Dockside building. “I’m not familiar with the issue,” responded Dale Gregory, VIPA Director of Engineering. “I will convey concerns to the executive director.”

VIPA’s decision to give parking spaces to Dockside is “an insult to the people of St. John,” said St. John resident Albert Willis.

“Unless we can rent one too,” another resident shouted,

Sen. Barshinger voiced the thought that Dockside received parking spaces from VIPA as a result of a payoff, a concern which has made its way through the rumor mill on St. John.

Acting Public Works Commissioner George Phillips, immediately stated he resented Sen. Barshinger’s allegation, which prompted the Senator at Large to retract his statement.

“I resent that – people shouldn’t make disparaging remarks without proof,” Phillips said. “There seems to be a public perception that the entire government is corrupted.”

Nearly every person attending the meeting raised their hands when asked by Sen. Barshinger if they disapproved of the parking spaces being given to Dockside by VIPA.

“Take that to (VIPA Executive Director) Brin,” Sen. Barshinger said to VIPA’s Gregory.

Five-Point Plan To Improve Parking
In addition to ensuring businesses are providing the required number of parking spots, Sen. Barshinger outlined a five-point plan to improve the parking situation in Cruz Bay. The first point, which is to tow away derelict vehicles, is complete, according to Barshinger.

The second point, which the Senator at Large hopes to enforce with his Parking Spot Verification Committee, is no more sidestepping parking regulations.

An in-town shuttle to move residents around town easily is the third part in the plan. This will eliminate the need to find a parking spot to do business in one location, then find another parking spot a few hundred feet away to do business at another location, according to Sen. Barshinger.

The fourth point in the plan is to build a large parking structure where the tennis courts are now. The Senator at Large hopes to incorporate tennis courts on the roof of the parking garage as part of the plan.

“The fifth point is to enjoy Cruz Bay like we did 25 years ago,” said Sen. Barshinger. “We’re going to have a very quaint, livable town like we remember.”

Enighed Pond Traffic Problems
Several residents expressed concern at the traffic problems the mid-December opening of Enighed Pond may cause. Currently, there is no staging area and passengers will not be allowed onto the Enighed Pond property until the barges have arrived, according to Ira Wade, St. John PWD Deputy Director. “There was no thought given to a waiting area,” he said.

The area best-suited for a staging area is currently filled with dredged material which must dry out and cure before it can be taken to a landfill, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines.

“The dredged material is like gelatin that’s been in the refrigerator for three days – the material is not what they expected, and they can’t get rid of it,” said Sen. Barshinger. “We need a public outcry to say that we need this as a staging area.”

Concerned residents questioned how long the curing process will take, and whether the recent rains could prolong this process. “I don’t think it’s a matter of years before it settles,” said Phillips. “The rain actually helps – it removes things from the sediment so we can take it to the landfill.” Until the dredged material is cleared, passengers will wait to get on the barge on Route 105 heading down the pond by the tennis courts, according to Wade.

“I’m sure the facility is an improvement on what we have now, but if we can’t properly access and use it, it doesn’t benefit us,” said one St. John resident, who questioned why a private building like Dockside was able to get parking spots from VIPA, yet a government project like Enighed Pond does not have adequate parking.

Many residents pointed out that the line of traffic generated by those waiting to get on the barges could block the fire station and snake around to the Julius E. Sprauve School.

“That’s where kids get out of school,” said St. John resident Cid Hamling. “We’ve already lost one child.”

Others were concerned about the traffic affecting residents in the area of Enighed Pond. “It seems like it’s going to be chaos – you are bringing confusion to a residential area with elderly people,” said Ivy Moses. “What are they going to do when they need to get home?”

Gregory acknowledged concerns raised by residents were valid. “I’m going to recommend that we look at our operations plan,” he said. “I hear you loud and clear.”

Trash, Flooding, Trucks Problems
Other concerns raised by residents included illegal dumping by businesses in residential dumpsters, where to call for help during flooding, and trucks that are being driven too fast.

One resident asked what to do when witnessing businesses dump trash in dumpsters designed for residential use. Signs are up which state that the dumpsters are for residential use only, according to Wade. “We rely on the public,” he said. “We get a lot of calls, but we have to have you as a witness in order to cite them.”

One resident shared her concern after she called the fire station when her house was flooding to ask for sandbags, and they told her they had none. “We have sandbags, call us,” said Wade. “We could give you 500 sandbags.”

Another resident pointed out how fast cement and gravel trucks travel on St. John roads. “They fly down the road – it’s an accident waiting to happen,” she said. “They have passed so close they cause shakes.” Phillips said he believes there is a certain time during the day when these heavy trucks may drive on St. John roads, but was unsure of the specific time frame.

“The trucks are overloading to save money,” said Sen. Barshinger. “You have to tell Mr. Wade, make it expensive for them to do it illegally.” The trucks can be fined for overloading.

2006 Budget Provides for More Employees
The budget for fiscal year 2006 allows for more PWD staff on St. John, according to Wade. They are hoping to hire people experienced in masonry and carpentry and heavy equipment operators.

“St. John will not be left behind while I’m commissioner,” said Phillips. “Mr. Wade knows that anytime he needs money, he can call me and the answer is almost always yes.”

Officials from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) were to participate in Friday’s meeting but were unable to attend, according to Sen. Barshinger. They will attend a meeting on St. John in November, he added.