June 11, 2004 – Water Island residents got little satisfaction about long-awaited infrastructure improvements on Thursday, as the federal government said it could not step in.
The residents met with U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel on Thursday evening. The Army presented findings from its multi-year study of impact from chemical testing done on the island years ago. The report says the island is negative for chemical agents. (See "Water Island Gets All-Clear for Transfer to Proceed".)
The report is the final step leading up to the Interior Department's turning the last 200 acres on the island still under its control over to the local government.
Residents had hoped with the turnover to see some improvements in needed services. Joanne Bohr, Water Island Civic Association president, said on Friday that Interior, under the present jurisdiction of the Bureau of Reclamation, has its hands tied as far as forcing the V.I. government to meet obligations outlined in the quitclaim deed from Interior in 1996.
She said Edgar Johnson, the Interior Department's desk officer for the Virgin Islands, said at Thursday's meeting that his office has no authority to enforce the deed covenants. They call for:
– Construction of a public dock and a deep-water dock.
– Maintenance of roads and docks.
– Maintenance of public recreation areas, including beaches.
– Fire protection.
– Inspection and licensing of motor vehicles.
– Regular trash removal.
Water Island residents have basically had none of those services on anything like a continuing basis. Trash removal has been a chronic problem and, according to one resident, is probably going to be discontinued shortly because the vendor has not been paid by the Public Works Department. (See "Water Island Trash Finally Barged Away".)
Bohr said Chuck Gidley, association vice chair, presented a land-use development plan at the meeting with recommendations to prevent over-development that could impact Water Island's fragile development.
James O'Bryan, St. Thomas and Water Island administrator, admitted the V.I. government has been "seriously deficient" in its obligations regarding the island's infrastructure in the last eight years, Bohr said. On Friday, however, O'Bryan had encouraging news. He described several plans in the works.
Bohr had described the current floating dock as a hazard to elderly and handicapped persons, saying some have fallen off into the water using it."It's dangerous," she said.
O 'Bryan said the Property and Procurement Department is letting a contractor to build a permanent dock, to be funded with federal transportation funds.
O 'Bryan also said Public Works is working on a contract for garbage. Fire protection has been a critical need, he said, and "we are working with the Fire Service to operate the substation over there." And, he added, "we basically have a plan for police registration of vehicles, and police on the beaches."
Once the fire station is completed, he said, a fireboat now on St. Thomas will be used to carry apparatus to the island. He noted that a Police Department official had made a presentation at the Thursday evening meeting.
Bohr said St. Thomas Deputy Police Chief Elvin Fahie Sr. "recognized our need." Bohr further said that Fahie has done an outstanding job in helping residents. "He always includes Water Island," she said. "Starting next week, he said, there will be a police car here. He brought one over for the meeting, but I think it will be a different one. We've offered to assist the officer any way we can."
Another area of need is Honeymoon Beach, which attracts large numbers of beachgoers and vendors. "We need someone to enforce rules and maintain the beach," Bohr said. "Stanley Smith, who is with the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department, said he recognized the issue and promised to assist us."
Johnson could not be reached for comment on Friday. A date for the final transfer of land has not been set, but V.I. and federal officials have indicated it will be in July.
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