Although local funding may not exist, Gov. Kenneth Mapp signed a measure appropriating $3.5 million for dredging off St. Croix, in hopes that federal disaster funding will cover the cost.
During its April 4 session, senators approved an appropriation of $3.5 million from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund to pay for dredging in the Schooner Bay Channel, adjacent to Gallows Bay on St. Croix.
Sen. Novelle Francis (D-STX) said the dredging would allow small cruise ships to dock by Christiansted, expanding the island’s capacity to serve the cruise industry and bring in day visitors.
Similarly, Sen. Neville James (D-STX) said, “We are being targeted for small cruise ships on St. Croix.”
James said several senators went to the recent Seatrade cruise industry convention “and that was a suggestion that was made to us.”
The territory is facing a major revenue shortfall, putting funding for the measure in question.
“The St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund is tapped for many projects,” Mapp said in his letter to the Senate notifying it of his actions, calling into question the availability of the local funds.
But he said he believes the territory has convinced the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that dredging will help economic development and so qualifies for some of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant disaster funding.
In early April, HUD announced it set aside $1.6 billion for the USVI, pending Mapp submitting and getting approval of a detailed action plan. HUD had previously approved more than $243 million, for more than $1.8 billion in total for the territory.
Congress approved the money as part of a $300 billion dollar spending bill – the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, approved in February, which included $83 billion for hurricane and wildfire disaster recovery for Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
It can be used broadly for housing, economic revitalization and infrastructure, but must be applied to an action plan approved by HUD. Mapp said he has included $30 million for dredging throughout the territory in his forthcoming action plan.
“Once HUD’s approval of these projects is received, the sum appropriated here, if available, may be used for other projects,” Mapp said.
Mapp also signed legislation to appropriate $500,000 from that same fund to pay for “energy efficient retrofitting of the industrial park on St. Croix, which hopes to fund solar power and a micro-grid to reduce energy costs for industrial park tenants.
The St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund has in recent years received appropriations from the Internal Revenue Matching fund of $2 million a year. As of May 11, 2017, the unaudited budgeted balance in the fund was listed at $2.18 million.
The governor approved legislation, sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, to increase the types and severity of criminal charges that can be made against people charged with “gang-related” crimes. If signed into law, the measure would make any member of a group that engages in criminal activity and has identifiable signs, symbols or colors and commits any of a wide variety of “predicate”crimes, also separately guilty of felony “gang criminal activity.” This charge would carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
“Predicate” offenses include publicly using “any vulgar, profane, or indecent language in a loud and boisterous manner,” or damaging a car to steal things from it, as well as more serious offenses such as arson or threatening a juror.
It also has harsh penalties for gang members who commit other violent felonies and for recruiting minors into a gang. It also allows prosecutors to add one to three years onto the sentences for other felonies if there is a gang connection.
The bill also gives police broad power to confiscate money and property from gang members and places any confiscated money and any gang-related fine revenues into a fund which, if funds are actually there, can be used for gang prevention programs.
He also approved changes to the territory’s insurance laws to conform to model uniform laws governing how and if premiums are refunded when a person stops paying into a life insurance policy. The changes bring the territory in line with most stateside jurisdictions.
And he approved legislation mandating the V.I. National Guard to initiate local versions of two educational programs: the Youth About Face and the adult-oriented Forward March program. Both involve job and life skills training and some computer-oriented classwork. It would be under the jurisdiction of the adjutant general. There is no local funding for the local mandate. But when the bill was heard in committee and again during session, Vialet asserted there is federal funding available at the V.I. Department of Labor.
Mapp also approved several zoning changes and coastal zone permits:
– One measure rezones Wharfside Village in Cruz Bay to bring its existing jewelry stores and other businesses into compliance with current zoning laws.
The rezoning changes Parcel No. 4-A Estate Cruz Bay Town, Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, from B-3 (Business-Scattered) to B2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood).
WVJD LLC, the company organized by Wharfside’s owner Joe DeCourcy, applied for a zoning change for the property in April 2017. In a letter to Senate President Myron Jackson that accompanied the rezoning application, DeCourcy wrote that the application was not submitted as part of any plan to further develop the property beyond existing uses, which include dining, gaming, retail shops, and residential rental units.
The shopping center in Cruz Bay that is most comparable in size to Wharfside, Mongoose Junction, has a B-2 zoning designation, which is meant for shopping centers immediately adjacent to primary business areas. A B-3, Wharfside’s current designation, is meant for smaller retail business that primarily serve the residential districts in which they are located. WWJD LLC has been the owner of the property since 2016.
– Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZJ-20-11W, issued to David McDaniel and Cheryl McDaniel, to use a 153-square-foot floating dock from November through May, seaward of Parcel No. 200-C-2A Estate Fish Bay, St. John;
– Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-2-16 (L&W,) issued to DUN RUN GOLF, LLC, for the continued use and occupancy of the existing reverse osmosis plant with 12-inch diameter, 140-foot intake line and 12-inch, 650-foot long outfall line located at Plot No. C-2-Q Estate Lovenlund, St. Thomas;
– A spot-rezoning of Parcel No. 13AA Estate Contant, No. 2 Cruz Bay Quarter St. John from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to R-4 (Residential-Medium Density). The purpose of the request is to develop six one-bedroom dwelling units for long-term affordable housing for island residents.
– A zoning use variance for Parcel No. 171 Estate Contant-Enighed, Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands, to allow Roberto Penha to operate a car rental business.