At a three-hour meeting in Cruz Bay Thursday night, community members narrowed down their wish list for a park proposed by the Virgin Islands Port Authority near the Enighed gravel lot.
Now the dozen or so members who attended want to reach out to the wider community to get their thoughts on what facilities should be included in the 3.75-acre property.
In the coming weeks, group members will be initiating a social media campaign and canvassing St. John schools and churches to get residents’ input on how the open space can best meet the needs of youth, families, seniors, and community groups of all types, as well as tourists, vendors and surrounding neighbors.
Right now, the preliminary design calls for a stage for concerts and events, parking, a running/walking/bicycle track around the perimeter, bathrooms, shaded coverings for gatherings, a playground, sports fields, and an area for food vendors. Other proposals include a skate park and pickleball courts.
The group heard presentations by Roger Merritt, director of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, and Elroy Hill, St. John’s Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation, about their plans which might affect the design of the proposed park.
Plans for upgrading wastewater facilities
The property leased to the Port Authority now being considered for a park is adjacent to the island’s wastewater treatment plant, which sometimes emits noxious odors that might deter residents from using the park when it is built.
Roger Merritt, VIWMA director, said the Waste Management Authority just received $1.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act Funds, which will pay to replace aging equipment, including odor scrubbers and blowers for aeration at the facility.
“We’ve also bought new pumps and grinders for Pond Mouth and backup equipment in case the system fails,” Merritt said. “You’ll continue to see improvements until you won’t even know we’re there.”
Waste Management recently received FEMA funding amounting to $2.3 billion to completely redesign and reconstruct the wastewater system on St. Croix.
“We have submitted a similar application package for $2.1 billion in funding for St. Thomas and St. John,” said Merritt, adding that he hopes to hear that the funding has been granted within the next several months.
The territory’s waste management systems have been in use for 60 years, twice the length of their expected use, Merritt said. The wastewater facility in Cruz Bay is able to process 130,000 gallons of wastewater daily and meets the current demand without exceeding its capacity.
Meeting goers said if federal funding is awarded to rebuild the system on St. John, it could require the expansion of the current plant, which might affect the design of the proposed park. Merritt said that he will keep in touch with Port Authority officials as each of their plans is developed.
Plan for new SPR recreation center includes emergency shelter
Meeting goers were pleased to learn from Elroy Hill that the reconstruction of the recreation center in Cruz Bay will include a 110-bed emergency shelter, thereby removing the need to include a shelter in the plan for Enighed park.
Hill said $2.6 million has already been set aside by the Office of Disaster Recovery for the construction of the 14,000-plus square foot building between the tennis courts and the traffic circle in Cruz Bay.
In addition to including a gym, offices, computer lab, and vocational training area, the building will serve as a VITEMA emergency operations center. The project is being funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
Hill said that the Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation was able to take over the old building next door that once housed vocational classrooms for the Julius E. Sprauve School and offices for the Board of Elections. That building was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
The problem is more funds are now needed to incorporate the addition of the footprint of the second building in the design. Hill said he did not know when the funding would be approved, but he did say nearly half of the drawings for the new center have been completed.
Hill also said that Sports, Parks and Recreation signed a memorandum of understanding three months ago with the National Park Service to manage the ballfield and playground near the Virgin Islands National Park’s Visitors Center.
The ballfield near the national park can be used for baseball, softball and soccer, thereby diminishing the need to construct a similar facility at the Port Authority’s Enighed park.
Hill said he would be meeting with electricians in the coming week to finalize lighting at the ballpark so that the facility can be opened to the public. The ballpark has been closed since it served as a staging area for the military following Hurricane Irma and then for the contractors who rebuilt the power lines throughout St. John.
Community members who attended the meeting Thursday said they still have questions about the Port Authority’s timeline for managing the project. The timeline presented at the Sept. 8 meeting announcing the project said that testing of the soil for the proposed park will be undertaken after the St. John community submits its wish list, which is due by the end of the year.
The project will be built on material dredged from Enighed Pond, and meeting goers were concerned that the dredged soil may contain toxic materials. They also questioned whether it made sense to plan for a skate park if the soil cannot support an extensive concrete structure.
Meeting chair Carmen Wesselhoft-Hedrington said that officials from the Department of Public Works plan to attend the next meeting to discuss plans to rebuild Fish Fry Road, which borders the proposed park site and is prone to flooding.
So far, meetings on the Enighed park project have been held every other Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Meada’s Plaza in Cruz Bay. The next meeting will be announced soon.
For further information or to receive confirmation of the next meeting date, please contact Wesselhoft-Hedrington at email@example.com.