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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 22, 2024


Good things are happening the marine industries community as concerns the public/private sector initiative started by Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen in January. In the first 100 days of the 24th Legislature, the Senate majority (and Sen. Hansen in particular) championed legislation resulting in the following:
– Economic Development Commission benefits will be available for marine businesses with two or more employees. This will allow charter yachts to participate in the program if they so desire.
– Funding has been approved for completion of the St. Thomas Swimming Association Olympic swimming pool on the East End of St. Thomas and for operating costs for the St Croix Swimming Association.
Sen. Hansen believed in and fought for this, and all of her colleagues voted for it — all 15 senators! The governor vetoed it, and Sen. Hansen again rose to the occasion and got an override. There is hope that STSA executive director Kathy Huttel will see the funds in time to continue on to the completion of her "dream" pool this time around!
I would like to comment here on something that I hope will be beneficial to all who live here and care about the overall welfare of our home and us, its people. All of us have a huge stake in this place and what happens to it. We can all start trying to understand the dynamics at work here and begin to play a more involved part in making our home a better place. The Olympic pool is a perfect example.
Fifteen years ago, a group of us conceived of it primarily as a facility for teaching every physically able St. Thomas/St. John child to swim — and their parents, as well. Secondarily, we saw having a world-class sports facility for our own people to use as a way to foster intramural, inter-island and international competitive swimming, giving us an entree into global sports tourism.
A no brainer, you say! Well, when we started down this road, we would never have dreamed that the process would take over 15 years. Particularly in light of a tragedy in Pillsbury Sound in the early days of the project — the Boy Scout drownings, lives lost because youngsters did not know how to swim! And still today — at Government House, no less — the attitude is, "Oh, well, that is a very nice idea, but it is not a priority!"
Vision, as well as money, needed
The sum of $250,000 can be scammed, stolen, swindled, wasted and mismanaged in a New York minute around here. How much better to put it into a world-class facility right now and give a whole bunch of deserving Virgin Islanders an opportunity to learn something worthwhile — and have in hand something which can make us grow and thrive!
The new Sport and Fitness Center on the University of the Virgin Islands St. Thomas campus is another fine example. UVI President Orville Kean caught rafts of grief for "squandering" eight million bucks-plus down by the airport. And guess what? We already know he was right on, and we have in hand a world-class facility for us to use — and to share with the world at a time when the Virgin Islands needs all of the help that it can get!
The Virgin Islands is full of loving, caring, giving, competent people — thank goodness! If only many of our top public leaders realized it! We are blessed with the vision, courage and strength of peers like Orville Kean, Kathy Huttel and, yes, Chucky Hansen who will not take "no" for an answer and who stand up for what they believe in. They and many others are showing us the way. Now, the big question: Dare we follow?
Part of Sen. Hansen's Marine Task Force is hard at work with others in the community trying to solve one of our thorniest problems if we are to regain our position as the "Charter Yacht Capital of the World." I'm referring to the so-called "six-pack rule" which limits the number of passengers a charter yacht can carry. A comprehensive press release just put out by the V.I. Charter Yacht League covers all of the pertinent details [See Source article "Equivalencies might avoid 6-pack limits", so I will not comment here — except to say that Sen. Hansen brought most of the key local players needed to resolve this issue together in her office on St. Croix in mid-February.
Public/private partnering at work
For the senator's edification, everyone was asked to state their views and understanding of the issues. Then they were given the opportunity to interact and develop working strategies. The Coast Guard's Puerto Rico port commander, Joseph Servidio, the officer in charge of marine safety inspection in the Caribbean region, was present. He was very helpful and hopeful that we will ultimately prevail in our effort. He offered many comments and ideas as to the most effective, productive and constructive ways we might proceed in order to achieve what we are after. He subsequently assigned several of his St. Thomas officers to work with the marine community to develop the plan of action that he will take forward for approval.
This is an extremely sensitive issue, not only here, but up the line to Washington D.C. If you want further information or have any questions about what the charter industry is hoping to achieve, please contact Susan Chandler, executive director, V.I. Charter Yacht League. Call her at (340) 774-3944, or e-mail to VICL.
All of these forward movements demonstrate the power of networking. The public/private partnership we have is working. But it needs to be nurtured and fine tuned constantly, which requires that you — our great and wonderful "Silent Majority" out there — get "more radical," as Nick Bailey puts it, in working on solving problems and taking advantage of opportunities before us.
Build a strong, viable private sector, and the rest will follow. Without such strength and viability, we will continue to wallow ineffectively for years to come — and I, for one do not believe that most of us wish this to continue to happen. So, drop your "cloak of silence" and join us. You will you will be glad you did.

Editor's note: Rik Van Rensselaer, a retired charter captain and longtime marine community activist on St. Thomas, is vice president of V.I. Marine Industries.

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