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HomeNewsLocal newsWhat Happened Here in 2023: A New Year’s Retrospective Part: 3

What Happened Here in 2023: A New Year’s Retrospective Part: 3

In the journalist tradition, the Source offers a look back at the biggest stories of the past year, as determined by readers and by staff.

Parts one and two of this four-part series cover the months of January through June 2023.

 

 

July

Celebrations on all three islands mark the 175th anniversary of July 3 Emancipation Day with song, dance, speeches, and the calling of names of people killed, wounded or arrested in the 1848 emancipation uprising.

Members of the Caribbean Dance Company perform for the 175 Emancipation celebration. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rules against the federal Environmental Protection Agency in its attempt to force the St. Croix refinery to obtain a Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permit in order to restart operations. The court said the EPA had jurisdiction over permitting for new facilities only.

Established on paper in 2022, the Division of Territorial Parks and Protected Areas of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources came to life with the appointment of a governing board and a director. An existing DPNR official, Kristina “Kitty” Edwards, took the director’s position.

As accusations and counter-accusations became more heated in court filings in the Jeffrey Epstein-related V.I. suit against JPMorgan Chase, the governor announced he would propose a Human Trafficking Act aimed at preventing the crime in the Virgin Islands.

Officer Delberth Phipps, Jr., was killed when he and another officer were fired upon as they responded to a 911 report of an armed man wearing a bullet-proof vest in Hospital Ground. Police later apprehended the suspect and identified the weapon as a high-powered assault rifle.

For the first time, UVI hires a woman as director of Athletics. A St. Croix native, Karen M. Carty, had 19 years of experience in related areas, including sports marketing, sports administration, and public relations.

The National Park Service announces its intentions for the future of the federal land, which has been leased as the site of the famous Caneel Bay resort since the 1950s. The plan calls for a replacement of the popular resort, not, as some residents favored, letting the land revert to its natural state. However, it would reserve more than half the 150-acre site as undeveloped green space. Badly damaged by hurricanes in 2017, the resort was left unrepaired and inoperable while owners wrangled over the terms of the current retain-use lease, made in 1982 and set to expire Sept. 30, 2023.

The New York Times reports that billionaire investor Leon Black, who had ties to Jeffrey Epstein, agreed in January to pay the V.I. government $62.5 million to be released from any claims related to its investigation into sex trafficking by Epstein.

August

In a plea deal, Kyle Christopher pleads guilty to one count of aggravated child abuse and neglect in the case of the 2019 beating death of four-year-old Aaron Benjamin Jr., the son of Christopher’s girlfriend at that time. Aaron’s mother, Delicia Daniel, had already pleaded guilty to one count of abuse and is serving a 20-year sentence.

Kimberley Causey-Gomez submits her resignation as commissioner of the Department of Human Services, apparently joining the ranks of Cabinet members who did not survive long into the second term of the Bryan administration.

The EPA reports that the clean-up of potentially harmful chemicals at the St. Croix refinery is essentially complete. Refinery owner Port Hamilton estimates the clean-up cost the company $17 million.

The St. John nonprofit Island Green Living announces it has processed three million aluminum cans and 30 tons of plastics, shipping them off-island to recycling facilities.

The governor nominates Harriet Nathalie Hodge, a longtime employee at Licensing and Consumer Affairs, to head the department, replacing Richard Evangelista, who moved from DLCA to Government House in the position of chief legal counsel.

September

In an ongoing case challenging the federal government’s rights over the Caneel Bay Resort property, District Court Judge Robert Molloy issues an order forbidding the government “to take any action to manage or dispossess Plaintiff of the property at issue until further order of the Court.” Plaintiff is EHI Acquisitions, the latest in a long line of entities to take control of the long-term lease on the land serving as the resort’s site. The order put on hold any plans by the National Park to replace the existing, heavily damaged resort. It came just days before the 1982 lease was scheduled to expire.

With both sides battered by public disclosures and accusations of embarrassing and potentially illegal conduct, the V.I. government and JPMorgan Chase settle their differences involving notorious sex predator Jeffrey Epstein. The government had sued the bank for $190 million, claiming it had enabled Epstein’s sex trafficking into the Virgin Islands. The bank countered that the government, through some of its officials, was at least as guilty of turning a blind eye to the millionaire financier’s crimes. The bank agreed to pay the territory $75 million but made no admission of liability.

The governor signs the bill authorizing the controversial land swap on St. John, trading Whistling Cay to the U.S. Interior Department for the National Park Service, in exchange for a portion of Estate Catherineberg in mid-isle to be used as the site of a public school.

WAPA announces that it has replaced almost 90 percent of the territory’s electric utility poles with composite poles, which are designed to be more resilient; the project was started in 2017.

Fire breaks out at the Bovoni landfill, closing nearby Bertha Bochulte School, rerouting traffic and discomforting nearby residences. It is contained in the green waste area of the landfill, where more current waste was mixed with an overload of debris from the 2017 hurricanes and eventually combusted. It takes a record 21 days (Sept. 14-Oct. 4) to extinguish the fire and requires federal assistance under an emergency declaration.

Smoke wafts from the Bovoni landfill fire on St. Thomas that erupted on Sept. 14 in a green waste section that contains plant debris from Hurricane Irma. (Photo courtesy Government House)
A fire at the Bovoni landfill burned for 21 days despite massive efforts to extinguish it, including water dumps from helicopters. (Photo courtesy of Government House)

Bruce Alfredo Smith admits he is guilty of sexually exploiting many students at Charlotte Amalie High School over the 15 years he worked there as a coach and hall monitor.

Having lost in Superior Court, Gov. Bryan appeals to the V.I. Supreme Court to hear his case fighting the Legislature’s restructuring of the WAPA governing board. Over his veto, the Legislature passed a law in 2021, reducing the size of the board from nine to seven members and removing all gubernatorial appointees except the director of the Energy Office.

As public schools open during record high temperatures – some without benefit of properly functioning air conditioning systems – teachers on St. Croix stage job actions.

George Goodwin, former senator, cricket enthusiast, and advocate for immigrants, dies at age 82. He is remembered especially for his pioneering work with the Alien Interest Movement, whose early 1970s court suit opened V.I. public schools to the children of Eastern Caribbean – and other – immigrants.

Former V.I. Sen. Steven Payne is arrested in Florida on charges of sexual battery, adding to his troubles in the Virgin Islands. After an investigation by the Legislature’s Ethics Committee into complaints of sexual harassment, Payne was ousted by the Legislature in 2022. He is still fighting that action.

 

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