Oct. 8, 2003 – More than 20 officials of the federal government and Puerto Rico joined numerous V.I. authorities on Wednesday for the ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the opening of a long-awaited marine base headquarters and maintenance facility for the Blue Lightning Strike Force on St. Croix.
Joining in the ribbon cutting were Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, in his capacity as acting governor while Gov. Charles W. Turnbull is outside the territory; Luis G. Zambrana, chair of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area that encompasses the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; and Police Commissioner Elton Lewis.
The Blue Lightning Strike Force was created in 1988 as both the Police Department's marine response to drug trafficking and related crimes and a search-and-rescue unit to aid mariners, Lewis said. Its base from the beginning was in the old Barracks Yard of Gallows Bay, where Hurricane Hugo destroyed its buildings and Hurricane Lenny did in its docks.
The two new buildings that have now replaced the destroyed facilities will allow the police to move out of their interim headquarters, an old refurbished trailer.
Sgt. Joseph Donahue, retiring Blue Lightning supervisor, missed Wednesday's hour-long ceremony because of illness. But Lewis and Jose Alvarez, HIDTA director, praised his efforts in getting the new facilities built, citing Donahue's exemplary leadership of his staff and of the project.
Richards in his remarks quoted from literature distributed at the ceremony stating that "Success was achieved only through the strength of all agencies, individuals and programs joining together."
The project was completed through an unusual combination of federal and local government and private sector resources, Alvarez said. He noted that military personnel designed the building and that Navy Seabees did the construction work.
Alvarez said the Seabees — 24 men and women who came to St. Croix from duty in Iraq — completed the two buildings in under 60 days. He noted that Hovensa provided them housing and related support and that Turnbull in June 2001 had called a special session of the Legislature which resulted in the appropriation of $200,000 for the project.
A month ago, when Lewis took part in a panel discussion hosted by the University of the Virgin Islands marking the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the mainland, he said his role in the territory was "to help ensure it doesn't happen again."
The Virgin Islands is "considered a 'soft target'" for potential terrorism because of its hundreds of miles of open shoreline, Lewis said then, noting that the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Seabees were assisting in the construction of new Blue Lightning facilities. In the absence of a federal Border Patrol unit in the territory, he said, Blue Lightning performs patrol functions.
Air Force Col. William Doty, one of a half-dozen military officers present for the ceremony, said the armed forces are dedicated to efforts such as those of Blue Lightning that they anticipate will improve the quality of life in the Virgin Islands. He expressed appreciation for the warm welcome extended the Seabees, who then received a standing ovation.
The Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands HIDTA, formed in 1994, coordinated the construction project, which began in October 2001. Many speakers praised the HIDTA and its executive board for helping to coordinate key resources to get the project completed. Catherine L. Mills, deputy director, also received a standing ovation. Also noted for their roles in the project were V.I. Attorney General Iver Stridiron and Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett.
U.S. Attorney David Nissman lauded Puerto Rico's former U.S. Attorney Guillermo Gil as his hero. It was Gil who made sure the territory received needed resources, particularly Blue Lightning, when the HIDTA came into existence, Nissman said.
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