On Monday the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning Committee sent out two pieces of legislation touching on the territory’s marine tourism and agriculture industries.
One measure, sponsored by Sens. Janette Millin Young and Clifford Graham, would require the Tourism Department to "hire employees, subject to the availability of funds," to promote marine tourism and develop a marine tourism plan. There is no funding for the legislation’s mandates. (Bill 31-0017)
The other, sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson, would mandate the Agriculture Department to do a feasibility study on establishing a St. Croix plant for processing local fruits and agriculture products and a satellite plant on St. Thomas. (Bill 31-0055)
There was no opposition to either bill.
Several V.I. officials, including Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Devin Carrington and Economic Development Authority Executive Director Percival Cloudenm, along with WICO Executive Director Joseph Boschulte and others, testified broadly in support of marine tourism and its value to the territory.
Nicholson-Doty spoke in support of the measure, while also saying the department is already doing everything anticipated in the legislation.
Over the last year, "the department has spent somewhat more than $1.25 million to promote marine tourism," Nicholson-Doty said. It spent about half a million dollars supporting fishing and marina related events, she said. "Another $600,000 has been expended for advertising and promotion of water sports," such as sailing regattas.
Voting to send the measure out of committee for more consideration were Graham, Jackson, Millin Young, Sens. Novelle Francis, Neville James, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly and Kurt Vialet. Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Tregenza Roach were absent at the time of the vote.
Jackson introduced his bill for a feasibility study on a fruit processing facility, saying a processing plant might help expand the sales and increase the volume and importance of the agriculture industry in the territory.
Several area farmers and Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Robles testified in support of a feasibility study. Robles said the department would need funding to do so, because his staff is small and overworked already.
Rivera-O’Reilly questions whether a feasibility study was the best use of scarce resources if everyone was broadly in support of the concept.
"I have absolutely no issue with this measure. I am just tired of studies. … If you go to our website and search … you will find at least 200 feasibility studies" authorized by legislation. Most of those just sit on shelves afterwards, she said.
"We agree manufacturing is good because it creates jobs. We agree it is good because it promotes agriculture. We agree it is good because it improves our diet," Rivera-O’Reilly said. "So if we agree, why don’t we just proceed instead of paying for a feasibility study?" she asked.
All nine committee members voted to send the bill, as amended, on for further consideration by the Rules and Judiciary Committee. All members were present for the vote.