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Editorial: Do What You Say, Say “Local Tourists”

The pilot pulled back layers of tarp to reveal his experimental seaplane. Flimsy at best, the aircraft was a bit like three lawn chairs and two propeller engines tied to a length of galvanize. But skimming across the water and up in the air, we went, leaving a secluded North Sound, Virgin Gorda bay behind.

The float plane had been designed for National Geographic, he said. The above-the-wing engines were weed-whacker quiet, and the single strut on each side allowed for maximum camera range. No windows. No doors.

Ultralight? Oh yes. Little puffs of wind altered our course north this way and that — brain coral towers and massive wandering rays changing the texture of the blue sea far below. The pilot wanted to give tours and hoped my article would help his promotions. He didn’t have the needed licenses or permits yet, but air traffic control between North Sound and Anegada wasn’t all that active in those days.

I could tell something was wrong as we approached the most remote of Virgin Islands. So could the pilot. We landed a few hundred feet from the Anegada Reef Hotel, and as the plane slowly splashed to shore, more and more (and more and more) uniformed police officers appeared. It seemed like the entire Royal British Virgin Islands Police Force was on that beach.

The pilot turned white as the sand, and I started thinking about how I was going to get home — if they didn’t lock me up too.

Then who should appear? The governor. White blazer, black glasses, snow-white hair, his smile broad as Loblolly Bay, his arms stretched out wide. “This is wonderful,” he shouted and shook the pilot’s hand.

It was one of the many times a lack of regulation enforcement saved my backside.

Seven weeks ago, I asked what’s going right in the territory and what could be better. Using your local knowledge and the fresh eyes of a tourist, you sent in — and are still sending in — comments nackin’ darg.

Rule bending, haphazard enforcement, and make-it-up-as-we-go regulation make our islands both charming and frustrating. (Source photo by Mat Probasco)

Many of you wrote with frustration about rules not being followed. I hear you. As much as I enjoyed not being scolded or even arrested that sunny day in Anegada (and in general), I know regulations are there for a reason. On the return flight, the pilot let my buddy fly for a bit. Bad idea. About two minutes later, the plane started sliding sideways a bit, and the pilot jumped up in his little lawn chair seat to grab back control. I don’t know much about aeronautics, so the technical term he used escapes me now, but for a second or two there, it was not good.

They might not be as exciting as stopping remote unlicensed airplane crashes, but building codes and labor laws are there to protect us. Silt screens around construction sites don’t just keep dirty dust from blowing in neighbors’ windows, they save coral — where fish live — from drowning in our mud.

“We do not have a very good process for planning in Cruz Bay,” one reader wrote. “We need enforcement in terms of the building codes as written. Strong building codes incentivize quality construction and the ease of use and convenience for tourists and locals alike.”

Food trucks, meant to be temporary roll-away eateries, mostly for take-out items, have become something closer to permanent restaurants, flouting regulations, a reader reports. Businesses, especially new ones, should provide parking and lighting. And foodservice is supposed to have bathrooms and running water for sanitation and food production.

“Food trucks are intended to be mobile, so are not required to have these things, but often the owner gets a food truck permit for what becomes a permanent location. The customers for these businesses must use public facilities, if available, so the public is, in effect, subsidizing these operators,” the reader says.

If a food truck has taken over a public space, they’re not paying rent, putting all the rent-paying restaurants at a disadvantage.

“In our small town, perhaps it’s best to have something of a laissez-faire spirit concerning the existing restaurants, but certainly we should not be issuing new licenses without considering the impact on the public at a minimum, being sure that they comply with the laws. All new businesses should be evaluated for their impact on the community as a whole.”

A few readers wrote with concerns about enforcement of reef-safe sunscreen. The Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs commissioner was quoted a while back saying they needed a more robust enforcement arm. I checked, and there were no job openings in this area, so maybe watch their next budget proposal to the Legislature?

One tourist reader wrote a sad and expensive sunscreen story:

“We brought reef-friendly sunscreen on both trips, but we’re surprised that the sunscreen we bought in St Croix ($30!) did not actually meet the guidelines once we read the ingredients. We assumed that we didn’t have to check. I know that on Earth Day, it was announced that this would be a greater focus. The difference in the reefs and number of fish on St. John over the 11 years since our last visit was very sad, and we wanted to do our part to prevent further damage.”

Parking was a big concern for you, too. What’s legal, what’s not, and why is there so much gray area?

“Parking in certain areas needs to be addressed. Red Hook allows parking along the street during the day, but at night, when restaurants are open, and tourists park rental cars down there, they get booted. Either more parking needs to be provided, or rules need to be enforced the same 24/7 to remove confusion.”

Agreed. And in Charlotte Amalie, on any given day, you’ll find loads of cars parked under No Parking signs. Why? Because there’s nowhere else to park, so the rules aren’t enforced. So why have the rules? The confusion turned off would-be shoppers. One visiting reader wrote:

“My husband REFUSED to come to town the first two trips because it seemed so chaotic.”

Readers suggested making legal parking areas more visible, correcting signage, and publishing parking guides that could come with rental cars.

Traffic enforcement, in general, could be better. I was nearly creamed by a big truck hauling a shipping container the other day. The truck driver was speeding down Veterans Drive like it was a racetrack, weaving between compact cars with reckless abandon.

“Have the police set up road stops to ticket the speeding dump trucks that don’t stop at the stop signs and come close to hitting not only passing cars but people crossing roads,” a reader wrote.

I like it. We’ve all seen them. And it’s not just in the USVI. Speeding panel vans — like the infamous St. John soda delivery trucks — are responsible for countless pedestrian and bicyclist deaths around the world. A friend of a friend was killed by one a few years ago in Portland, Oregon, and around the same time, all of Britain was up in arms about the dangers of speeding, overloaded lorries.

Another reader wrote in saying they wished VIPD was more professional in general.

I’m on the fence about this one. Yes, of course, uniformed authorities — with guns! — should always act in a professional manner. On duty or off, they are responsible for our safety from crime. But they’re being asked to navigate the same gray areas as people parking quasi-legally downtown. It’s the same for all our enforcement officers, from VIPD to DLCA to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

By stopping some cars for illegally tinted windows but not all cars, by demanding reef-safe sunscreen but not getting the bad stuff off the shelves, by turning a blind eye to poor construction practices here and there, we put our enforcement officers in a tough spot.

But that’s how we like it. That’s part of our V.I. Nice charm, no?

How many of you St. Thomians come to a complete stop every time at Four Corners? VIPD did one of their day-long traffic enforcement campaigns up there recently — stopping every driver on their phone, missing a tail light, with overly tinted windows, going too fast, or, like me, not stopping all the way.

“Come to a complete stop!” the bulletproof-vest-wearing officer shouted. I jabbed the brake hard but also noted they had parked their van in such a way as to completely obscure the stop sign.

I’m not complaining. As mentioned, I’ve taken full advantage of haphazard enforcement. But I drove around the next couple days, noting police cars driving by any number of overly-tinted windows, speeding drivers, and missing tail lights.

If you missed the first five installments of our “local tourist” experiments, they’re linked here:

Local Tourist Feedback

“Local Tourist” Feedback Received

“Local Tourists” Feel Unheard

Promote Paradise or Pave It Over, ask “Local Tourists”

Adopt Your Home, “Local Tourists”

“Local Tourists” Seek Cultural and Digital Clarity

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