Oct. 16, 2003 – St. Croix's economic situation was described by the chair of the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee on Wednesday as being potentially explosive, according to a legislative release.
"It is not a pretty picture," Sen. Luther Renee stated. "It is a sorry sight."
The hearing, held in Frederiksted, was called to take testimony on the status of the territory's capital projects and what Renee termed "the non-performance of the administration when it comes to the economic revitalization on the island of St. Croix," the release stated.
Renee, a St. Croix district representative, said there is "a sense of hopelessness" on the island. "Everything is at a standstill, and people on St. Croix no longer have faith," he said. "Therefore, the government must prime the economic pump."
For "an effective engine of growth to take place on the island," the release stated, Renee said that "the government must take the responsibility."
The committee asked those testifying what impediments exist to prevent the speedy implementation of the pending capital projects.
Testifying were Frank Schulterbrandt, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority; Keith Richards, the governor's capital projects coordinator; Clifford Graham, Housing Finance Authority executive director; David Mapp, Port Authority assistant executive director; Roy Canton, Housing, Parks and Recreation Department projects coordinator; and Aloy Nielsen, Public Works Department acting deputy commissioner for engineering.
All "were intensely scrutinized" by the senators concerned about "the lackadaisical efforts on the part of the administration and other pertinent agencies in bringing these projects to futility," the release stated.
Richards was asked why certain projects are at a standstill and where there is "a lack of urgency on the part of the governor to intervene." Renee "advised Richards to go back and inform the governor of the frustration of the elected officials," according to the release.
Municipal marina proposed
Meanwhile, Sen. Almando "Rock" Liburd, a member of the committee, announced on Wednesday that he has submitted legislation calling for another St. Croix capital project — a municipal marina with 60 slips and "a major long- and short-term marine storage facility with all the accompanying services and amenities."
Liburd is calling for earmarking $8 million of "the $65 million bond issue being floated for St. Croix" for the project. An aide said on Thursday that a decision has not yet been made as to where the marina would be located.
The project "will be the catalyst to boost the territory's fledgling marine industry," Liburd said in a separate release, "bringing us back on course in terms of rejuvenating St. Croix's depressed economy and making the Virgin Islands a marine hub in the region." It would also result in "establishing St. Croix as a safe destination for marine trade," he said.
He said the facility "is designed to be a self-sustaining revenue generator, and the return on the initial investment can be recovered in an average of four to five years." It "would put St. Croix at the forefront of a highly lucrative market," he said, "and the many offshoot businesses that would result from this venture would create increased revenues to the government."
And, Liburd said, "the time is ripe for this venture, because it's being done right next door" in the British Virgin Island, Puerto Rico, Grenada and Venezuela.
Federal OK sought for boardwalk, road projects
In related action, Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards announced on Thursday that he wrote on Tuesday to the district engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Col. Robert M. Carpenter, asking him to expedite a permit for construction on Phase IIA of the Christiansted boardwalk development to proceed. And, he said in a release, he wrote on Wednesday to the executive director of the Federal Highway Administration, Frederick G. Wright, pushing for agreements to allow for the procurement of services to resurface St. Croix's Midland Road.
Richards ask Carpenter to make the boardwalk permit "a critical priority," saying that he could not overemphasize "the severe economic conditions St. Croix is barely surviving under. The hardship is forcing many of our most skilled workers to seek employment outside the territory. A project such as the Christiansted boardwalk Phase IIA can become a symbol and component that St. Croix's economy can move toward sustainable and healthy recovery."
And he told Wright that the road work is "a matter of significant importance to the government and people" of the territory.
At Wednesday's hearing, the committee members present in addition to Renee were Sens. Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton Jr., Roosevelt David, Emmett Hansen II and Liburd. Sen. Celestino White was not present. Also present were Sens. Louis Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste, Usie Richards and Ronald Russell, who are not members of the committee.
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