Neighbors in the Hull Bay area blocked a popular beach road Friday to prevent trucks from taking sand after three enormous dump trucks were seen removing sand from the area that morning.
At least part of the sand that was eventually returned.
Less than an hour after the three trucks were seen removing beach sand from Hull Bay, a dozen residents and several officials from two government agencies had gathered at the beach on St. Thomas’s north side to get answers about the unusual – and what would normally be illegal – activity.
Beginning last Sunday, unprecedented wave action had driven the sand from the ocean, and beach into the narrow roadway that separates the beach on the north side from the private property on the south side that is home to a restaurant, bar and residences. The narrow, sandy road , referred to simply at “the beach road” is also the only entrance and exit to and from Tropaco Point, home to a hundred or so people.
“It was a misunderstanding,” said Nelson Petty, acting Public Works commissioner in a phone interview Friday morning. “Someone called me yesterday and said there was sand blocking his driveway.”
Petty, who was off island, directed his DPW employees to go to the beach and remove the blockage.
“I guess they thought it was excess sand,” Petty said of the three truck loads that had been removed by the time the action was halted.
Friday at the beach, one DPW employee inferred that the problem was people getting stuck in the sand. That problem had been solved, however, by 11 a.m. on Thursday after a resident had gotten stuck. The resident had managed to extricate her car just as the DPW crew showed up to clear the road. Public Works cleared the road, piling the sand, as had been done after the hurricanes, along the sides of the road. There was only one “driveway” blocked by the sand. On Thursday afternoon, this reporter noted that about six inches of sand had been pushed up in front of the six-foot-long- chain link gate to the private, mixed-residential and commercial property on the south side of the road. It was that six inches of sand that turned out to be the impetus for Friday’s overreaction, according to Petty.
Neighbors at the beach Friday pointed out that taking so much as a bucketful of sand from the beach would have landed them with a heavy fine and maybe even a jail sentence. They were reminded by a Department of Planning and Natural Resources employee that the Virgin Islands is still in a “state of emergency” following the two category five storms that pummeled the islands more than six months ago.
“That makes the rules different,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous. (See editor’s note below.)
Meanwhile, as the concerned citizens stood waiting an acceptable conclusion, two more dump trucks tried to get onto the road, while DPW workers stood ready to load more sand from the beach into the awaiting trucks.
Residents on one end blocked the trucks’ access while a DPNR Jeep had deliberately been parked in front of the mountains of sand the backhoes were waiting to remove.
“DPW has been told to ‘stand down,’” said another DPNR employee, who also required anonymity. “I am not moving this vehicle until they understand fully they are not to take anymore sand.”
Thanks to the quick action of neighbors, a couple of surfers, and responsible government officials, what had begun as a potentially environmentally disastrous “misunderstanding” at around 9 a.m. had reached at least a somewhat satisfactory conclusion by 1:15 p.m., when three partial truck loads of sand were returned to their home at Hull Bay beach.
“I told them to take the sand back,” Petty told the Source.
Editor’s note: Virgin Islands residents and government workers alike routinely cite their not-unreasonable fear of retribution for their unwillingness to be named in stories. The Source understands fully their concerns and will always make every effort to protect them from reprisal by allowing them to talk to us without attribution when we feel it is necessary to report important information.