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HomeNewsLocal newsUndercurrents: Updates on Water Quality, Fort Christian, the Centennial Commemoration

Undercurrents: Updates on Water Quality, Fort Christian, the Centennial Commemoration

A regular Source column, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events developing beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.

Cleanest and Dirtiest Beaches

If you judge your favorite beach by something other than the breadth of the sand, the height of the waves, the prevalence of shade trees or the preponderance of people, you might be interested in what the folks who monitor water quality have to say.

First a caveat: As discussed in a recent article (See Related Links, below,) water quality varies. That’s why they monitor it. What’s pristine one day may be borderline the next.

And another thing: In general, the water at Virgin Islands swimming beaches is clean. Routinely, the amount of Enterococci bacteria (the bacteria monitors monitor) is well below what is considered a safe level.

That said, Benjamin Keularts, the manager for the beaches monitoring program at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, took the time to go back over program records and find which beaches tested high for bacteria levels the most often from 2012 through 2015 and which tested lowest. He searched through the weekly data for 33-plus beaches over a four-year span.

He found that the “best” beaches on St. Croix were Stony Ground (Frederiksted pool) Cormorant, and Fort Louise Augusta and the “worst” were Princess (Condo Row) Chenay Bay and Ha’penny (Halfpenny) Beach. On St. Thomas, the “best” were Magen’s Bay, Brewer’s Bay and Lindbergh Bay, and the “worst” were Coki Point, Water Bay and Lindquist Beach.

On St. John, the beaches were all about even, Keularts said, which is to say, pretty consistently clean.

“The only beach on St. John that really had any noticeable number (of Enterococci bacteria) was Cruz Bay.”

Even the “dirtiest beach of all” – Ha’penny – was not that bad. It exceeded safe levels less than 11 percent of the time, Keularts said. That means it tested poorly only once in every ten times it was sampled.

The cleanest beaches have exceeded bacteria limits only about one percent of the time, or about once in every 100 samples, he added.

While the water quality is typically good, Keularts noted the government tests it regularly because “it can change in an instant from week to week or after any storm.” DPNR publishes a weekly report on territory beaches which includes warnings whenever a beach exceeds the bacteria limits considered safe.

Surprise! Fort Christian Work Stalled

It really ain’t over til it’s over. That’s the lesson Sean Krigger, director of the State Historic Preservation Office at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, is learning from the Fort Christian renovation project.

The Notice to Proceed on restoring the 17th century landmark in Charlotte Amalie was issued in 2005, after many years of discussions and false starts. Work was to be completed in a year. But for the next decade, the project was plagued by various delays.

By this February, substantial progress had been made and it looked to Krigger that an end finally was in sight. He predicted construction would conclude in “a couple months.” (See link below.)

But almost nothing has happened since then.

“We’re actually at a standstill right now,” Krigger said last week. “Basically things have come to a halt … We’re in holding mode.”

This time the delay revolves around approval of a contract that expands the scope of work to include restoring the brick flooring in the interior courtyard.

The proposed contract, which Krigger said is for a little less than $430,000, has been under review at Property and Procurement for months.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp approved the addition of the flooring work, Krigger said, and provided funding for it through the Public Finance Authority, “So the money has not been an issue.”

Meanwhile, there are other details to wrap up.

For instance, Krigger said all the work has been completed to switch to an underground utility system: the trenching was done, conduits laid, a new transformer and electrical panels installed, but the actual switch has not happened yet.

“It’s all ready. It’s all there … It may just not have been energized.”

Then there’s something a little more involved – Phase II of the project. That includes the restoration of the “west curtain,” where jail cells used to be, and of the basement. It involves masonry and electrical work, Krigger said, and “It’s going to be really a delicate balance on how much restoration we do.” The trick is not to renovate too much and detract from the dungeon atmosphere in those areas.

Besides that, Krigger said, “We anticipate having a Phase III” which would involve the outside grounds and include removing paving, adding historic exterior lighting, and doing a bit of landscaping.

“The idea is to expand the green areas around the fort.”

DPNR officials have said they intend to complete the project in time for Fort Christian to play a significant role in some of the Centennial Commemoration events, just as it did in the original transfer ceremonies of 1917. While the major activities are expected next year, things were supposed to start this August.

Centennial Musings

In a recent conversation, one heavily credentialed Son of the V.I. Soil, Basil Ottley, worried aloud that a lot of people in the territory are missing the importance of the Centennial Commemoration.

There are those who reject it as glorifying a hand-off of the islands from one colonial power (Denmark) to another (the United States.) And there are others for whom it boils down to a sweet nostalgia for the good old days of “Danish Times.”

But what quickens Ottley’s heart is realizing that in the transfer to America, Virgin Islanders seized the opportunity to begin to shape their own destiny.

“There was a feeling, a stirring of hope to want more,” he said. “The U.S. was looked at as the Hope.”

Many young Virgin Islanders, including such icons as D. Hamilton Jackson and Ottley’s grandfather, Ernest Schulterbrandt, moved to New York during the early years of the 20th century. They kept their ties to the Caribbean and they struggled for more autonomy for their homeland.

“You have Virgin Islanders saying ‘We want to be citizens,’ “ Ottley said. “They fought for it.” And in 1927, ten years after the transfer, they got it. U.S. citizenship was conferred on all those born in the Virgin Islands and living in it in 1917. Five years later, the law was amended to include those who had moved to the States before the transfer.

A former V.I. senator, and recent unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor, Ottley has worked many years in the U.S. Interior Department, where he currently is policy director for the Office of Insular Affairs.

Interior has provided a grant to the territory to help fund its Centennial Commission, but Ottley stressed he has no formal role with the commission and does not speak for Interior on the subject of the commemoration.

Having grown up immersed in V.I. history and politics – his uncle was local power broker Earle Ottley, for whom the Legislative hall is named – Ottley said he just has to share his thoughts and insights. “I need to not be silent on this.” 

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