May 6, 2003 – Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards announced the first steps on Tuesday of a plan to put St. Croix on the path to economic recovery over the next few months.
But during his press conference at Government House in Christiansted, Richards was questioned about his office's purchase of 16 new vehicles at a time when government officials are under orders to pinch pennies.
Richards said the vehicles were bought last October, before he became lieutenant governor, but that they were much needed. "My office collects revenues. Things get stalled when employees don't have any transportation. Those other cars were all eight to 10 years old," he said.
The discussion of the cars, however, was only a small part of the hour-long press conference. "I am energized and as anxious as you and others to see positive changes occur on St. Croix," Richards said.
He referred to various economic development plans and studies commissioned by the government over the last few years — the Five Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan, the Port Authority's Action Agenda, the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategic Plan of 2001, and several others.
"There have been enough studies done to document the malaise of St. Croix," Richards said. "Moreover, what is abundantly clear is that even though there have been a number of reports, plans and recommendations, St. Croix remains the same."
At the start of their administration in January, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull assigned Richards the task of developing a comprehensive plan to stimulate St. Croix's economy. Richards said he is committed to capitalizing on St. Croix's strengths with a plan "that we all participate in, one that we all agree on, and one that shares the responsibility, shares the tasks." He emphasized that all sectors of the St. Croix community will be involved in its formulation.
While the "plan" is a work in progress, Richards said he has already begun to take steps "which I believe place us on the path that will lead to St. Croix's revitalization." He said various officials of government and semi-autonomous agencies have begun to chart public resources to determine "what the government has available to contribute" to St. Croix.
Looking at the available resources, planners have attempted to assess the status of the island's infrastructure, public safety, schools, health care, entertainment, licensing and permitting processes, ability to identify grant funding, and other issues, Richards said. In order to respond to some of these issues, he said, they plan to focus on capital projects "to immediately infuse monies into our economy."
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, who was selected as a "team leader" in the development of the plan, outlined several of the capital projects, including:
– $4 million completion of the second phase of improvements at Charles Harwood Hospital, to begin June 13.
– $2 million completion of the second phase of the Christiansted Boardwalk, to begin in July.
– $2.5 million islandwide road paving, to begin in July.
– $1.2 million enhancement of the Sunday Market Square, to begin in September.
– $3.2 million reconstruction of Midland Road, to begin in July or August.
– $600,000 worth of various Education Department projects to begin in June.
– $400,000 renovation of the Richmond Senior Citizen Center, to begin in May.
– $700,000 in improvements to the Youth Rehabilitation Center, to begin this summer.
All of these projects are on the drawing board with committed funding "so that the normal course of business must be to continue to see them through," Richards said
Plaskett pointed to several government agencies' efforts at boosting St. Croix's economy, including VIPA's business and commercial park planned for Betty's Hope, the runway extension and tower construction at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport and initiatives by Police Commissioner-designate Elton Lewis to reduce crime. Development of several housing communities, Water and Power Authority infrastructure improvements and Tourism Department goals also were cited.
Plaskett said one important component of Tourism's role in the plan is the finalization of the a St. Croix Cruise Ship Task Force agreement, which he said has received final signatures from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. F-CCA representatives are on St. Croix this week to continue discussions on the plan.
Richards said that the capital projects Plaskett outlined represent a cumulative infusion of $78 million expected to begin on St. Croix, and expected to create a total of 1,680 jobs.
The private sector has been asked to get involved in the formulation of the plan, Richards said, and his office has begun to send out letters and a survey "designed to gain an understanding of their vision."
He said residents, student leaders, labor leaders and legislative committees also will be asked for input in putting the plan together, and "the meat of the work will begin" after meetings with all those constituencies take place.
He plans to form subcommittees to focus on specific areas and establish specific goals and timelines for the project's implementation. He said the public will be updated continually on the progress being made.
"As we move forward, we must engage in an effort that will produce tangible results — not pie in the sky efforts," Richards said. "It is also important that we understand that Rome was not built in one day and that the problems plaguing St. Croix have compounded in recent years."
Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.