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HomeNewsLocal newsSt. John Residents Question Port Authority's Control of Proposed Multiuse Park

St. John Residents Question Port Authority’s Control of Proposed Multiuse Park

Residents met Thursday night at Meada’s Plaza to discuss plans for a park. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

During a town hall meeting on Sept. 9 to present a plan to build a multiuse park near Cruz Bay, Carlton Dowe, executive director of the V.I. Port Authority, told the audience, “We want buy-in. The community must take the lead to get meetings going and make decisions.”

Seventeen St. John residents responded to Dowe’s directive and met at Meada’s Plaza Thursday night. But instead of creating a wish list to add to a design concept (which provisionally includes a performance area, bathrooms, vendors section, storage structure, and recreation facilities), they called into question the Port Authority’s right to direct the project.

“Who owns the land?” asked Douglas Thompson. “Can we acquire it or get a long-term lease?”

The project is planned for a 3.75-acre site between the gravel parking lot and the Theovald E. Moorehead Marine Terminal on Enighed Pond, which is owned by the government of the Virgin Islands but leased to the Virgin Islands Port Authority since 1989.

A Map Geo screenshot shows the location of the proposed park. (Screenshot)

“There are many fundamental questions,” said Kurt Marsh Jr. “Can we agree that we don’t want the project to belong to the Port Authority because they’re going to charge us to use it?” he asked, paraphrasing a repeated concern expressed at public meetings that VIPA’s need to recover costs will be unfairly borne by community members.

The community’s distrust comes from a three-year dispute involving fees to use the gravel parking lot after the Port Authority made improvements. The gravel lot is now part of the proposed park site.

Members of the St. John Committee of Coastal Zone Management, which had oversight of the project, were unable to get VIPA to alter its rate structure.

In 2020, a bill sponsored by then Sen. Steven Payne to allow residents to park for free was held in committee after being contested by Dowe.

Residents protested VIPA’s rate of $15 a day (or $175 a month), leading to an unofficial boycott of the facility; in March, a handwritten sign at the entrance stated, “Parking all day $8.”

At Thursday’s meeting, residents brought up other concerns, including the Port Authority’s use of the St. John Capital Improvements Fund to pay for the design and engineering studies. A $400,000 appropriation for the initial phases of the project was passed by the 34th Legislature via Act No. 8473.

One resident said the Port Authority’s mission does not include the design and construction of a park. Another said the construction of a recreation area on government-owned land should be under the control of the V.I. Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation.

At Thursday’s meeting, residents brought up other concerns, including questions about the nature of the site’s soil which is largely composed of material dredged from Enighed Pond. “We’ve got to test the soil to find out if it contains anything toxic,” said Kim Lyons.

“We still don’t know if the soil is stable; we can’t tell if there can be a structure there,” said Kurt Marsh.

Several residents have suggested adding a skate park to the design, but Pam Gaffin said, “We can’t put in a skate park if it’s going to sink.”

A photo from the hills above Cruz Bay shows the Enighed gravel parking lot and adjacent area proposed for a park. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Theodora Moorehead called for another meeting attended by officials from the Port Authority, Sports, Parks and Recreation, and the administrator’s office, as well as Public Works (which has imminent plans to reconstruct a nearby road prone to flooding) and the V.I. Waste Management Authority (which operates a sewage treatment plant known to overflow adjacent to the site).

“We need to get these people to the table. We have questions,” Moorehead said.

The St. John residents who attended the meeting chose Carmen Wesselhoft-Hedrington to serve as the group’s chair. She said she would call another meeting after researching questions brought up at the meeting Thursday.

Carmen Wesselhoft-Hedrington was chosen as chair of the community group to address the Port Authority’s plan to build a multiuse park near Enighed Pond. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

At the Sept. 9 meeting, Dowe said he wanted the community to reach a consensus about the concepts by the end of this year so that the next phase could begin.

On Thursday, residents said that they should be given more than three months to address a project that has been discussed for decades but essentially mothballed for years. Steve Black, one of the originators of the project, said that he had brought up the project with Dowe several months ago.

A color drawing shows the concept of park as drawn in 2015. (Submitted by Steve Black)

They also wondered if the results of community planning sessions would be incorporated into the actual design of the project.

“If the Port Authority is going to have final say, why are we doing all this?” said Brummell Germain.

Editor’s note: This story has been modified to clarify a statement made by Kurt Marsh Jr. as he sought to summarize suggestions from meeting attendees.

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