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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentFrom Consideration To Approved, Legislation Moves to Government House

From Consideration To Approved, Legislation Moves to Government House

Senate President Novelle E. Francis chairing legislative session. (Photo By Legiislature of the VI)

Senators of the 35th Legislature reviewed over 25 bills ranging from resolutions, leases, zoning, and other matters during Thursday’s legislative session, but fell into a pothole of disagreement when it came to zoning.

The bill behind a heated disagreement was none other than 35-0023, an act granting zoning use in Estate Orange Grove, St. Croix to allow the manufacture of concrete products by Just Right Trucking. Senators held their individual stances over the long-term EPA concerns and the well-being of the people in the area.

Directly across the street from Just Right Trucking is a shopping center with a grocery store, two fast food restaurants, a pharmacy, an eye specialist office, as well as the office of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs. The surrounding area also includes housing communities and schools that would be in direct contact with air pollution from the manufacturing plant in addition to the current traffic congestion.

Local citizens generated an online petition to assist in their opposition of the manufacturing plant being placed in the area and gained over 600 signatures. 

A determination from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources concluded that the permitted use would significantly conflict with the current zoning district, and recommended denying the request. DPNR has received letters of support for their denial recommendations as well as letters of concerns.  

Sen. Franklin D. Johnson utilizing his debate time to compare Just Right Trucking to the WAPA plant, also in the area, stated that the people’s concerns are in the wrong place. According to Johnson, the focus should be on the WAPA plant regarding its tanks and the hazards it brings to the locals.

 “I didn’t hear a single person complain about the WAPA plant. I can guarantee you that everyone that is complaining already have a home, everyone complaining have a mansion,” said Johnson. 

Strongly in support of the opposition to the bill were Sens. Marise James, and Alma Francis Heyliger. 

James shared her experiences growing up in the area and compared the current rezoning issues to the rezoning of the WAPA plant and how it affected the people in the area at that time. Having questioned the deteriorating health of her neighbors, and the pollution in the surrounding area James was engulfed with a ray of emotion as she pleaded with her colleagues.

“We can’t say we have experts at DPNR and then we’re going to ignore them. So I will rely on the expertise of the experts at DPNR in applying the statutory standard for a variance,” said James.

Sen. Diane T. Capehart appeared to be in opposition of the bill during debate time, pointing the finger at DPNR for allowing Just Right Trucking to be in operation in its current location. Capehart stood in support of Just Right Trucking and offered to assist the company in finding another location.

When it came time to vote Capehart along with Sens, Novelle E. Francis, Marvin A. Bylden, Franklin D. Johnson, Javan E. James, Angel L. Bolques, Samuel Carrion, Milton E. Potter, Ray Fonseca voted in the favor of the measure. Sens. Donna Frett-Gregory and Carla Joseph decided not to vote, while Sen. Dwayne DeGraff was absent. Alama Francis Heyliger and Marise C. James voted against it.

Emerging out of the pothole onto leveled ground, the majority of the senators voted in the in favor of the legislation to include the Juneteenth bill to adopt the holiday as an official working day off, and include pay for essential workers.

Among the bills receiving unanimous approval were the establishment of a Local Food and Farm Council in accordance with the Virgin Islands Agricultural Plan, as well as the legislation to establish the Bureau of School Construction and Maintenance within the Virgin Islands Department of Education to include the appropriation of funding. 

Stepping down from legislative session and opening the floor to Committee of the Whole, testifiers David Hall, President of the University of the Virgin Islands, Carlton Dowe, Director, of Virgin Islands Port Authority, and Jim Kellogg, Vice President and General Manager of Independent Boatyard and Marina spoke to two zoning bills. 

Bill 35-0072 Act ratifying the governor’s approval of zoning permit to Independent Boatyard and Marina for the continued use of the docks, to include modification for a new ramp to haul Catamarans in St. Thomas.

Bill 35-0063 an Act approving a land swap between VIPA and UVI. Currently, UVI has an undeveloped field adjacent to the VIPA’s airport area of operations and is proposing swapping the land for VIPA’s large warehouse building, which UVI is leasing.

The Senate body agreed that both bills were beneficial and applauded all entities involved on the forthcoming progression.

Sen. Francis said, “The bigger picture being sought is the development of an aviation school offered at the University of the Virgin Islands. The program will attract new students who will have the opportunity to become trained pilots and be certified.”

Novelle E. Francis Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Carla Joseph, Angel L.Bolques Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Donna Frett-Gregory, Dwayne M. Degraff, Diane T. Capehart, Samuel Carrion, Kenneth L. Gittens, Javan E. James Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, Milton Potter, Ray Fonseca, Marise C. James were present at Friday’s session.

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