81.4 F
Cruz Bay
Sunday, February 5, 2023


A meeting called by Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd Thursday evening to discuss the V.I. National Park's new Commercial Services Plan with taxi drivers erupted at times into a shouting fest directed at park Supt. John King.
The 50-plus taxi drivers and friends who overflowed Nazareth Lutheran Church used the meeting to heap on King's head their ire about many real and imagined transgressions by the park over its 45 years, the Friends of the V.I. National Park, and conditions in St. John.
"There's no difference between bin Laden and the Friends of the Park," taxi driver Elvis Sprauve said.
It was not clear what the Friends, a not-for-profit organization that raises funds privately for park projects, had done to so anger the drivers. King pointed out that the group was not a guiding force behind the Commercial Services Plan. He said federal law mandates that all 385 national parks have such plans.
"St. John is different from all the parks across the county. We need to be treated differently," Carmen Wesselhoft insisted, to applause from the drivers.
King said after the meeting that the Commercial Services Plan, which went through an extensive, multi-stage public comment process, has been approved by the park's regional office. There is no chance it will not be implemented Jan. 1 as planned, he said.
Under the plan, commercial operations of such activities as daysails, kayak tours and hiking trips will continue to pay fees to use the park, as they have done for decades. Come Jan. 1, the taxi tour operators will join their ranks.
Taxi associations and companies running tours will have to pay $750 a year.
Taxi drivers who conduct independent tours and association members moonlighting on their own tours will pay $300 a year.
No fee is required for drivers who transport people from point A to point B and drop them off.
What constitutes a tour was one sticking point Thursday night. The taxi drivers asked over and over again if stopping at Caneel Bay overlook made them a tour. King initially said utilizing the park overlooks indicated a tour, but at the end of the meeting he said he was willing to negotiate on finer points such as this. Several taxi drivers argued that passengers on a trip from point A to point B who ask them to stop for a minute so they can take photographs are not on a tour.
Many taxi drivers claimed the meeting was the first they knew of the new permit requirements. Park officials held a dozen public meetings starting in December 1999 on the subject. Additionally, King's predecessor, Russ Berry, met several times with St. John Taxi Services and V.I. Taxi Association representatives in an attempt to hammer out a workable agreement.
Ownership of the road through the park was another major issue Thursday. King said the park contends it owns the road, but Liburd said it is local government property. Both said numerous times that it is an issue for the courts, but the drivers continued to insist that the permit issue hinges on road ownership.
"Let's act reasonable," Liburd said at one point as the taxi drivers yelled at King. The park superintendent, who calmly responded to all allegations, also put to rest rumors that the park planned to put up entrance and exit gates. He said that the law establishing the park would not allow that.
King also said the temporary admission fees in place at Trunk Bay beach and the Annaberg Plantation ruins will become permanent in the not-too-distant future. This news also angered some taxi drivers, who claimed it was their birthright to use Trunk Bay for free.
Only one driver mentioned the benefits of having a park on St.John. "The park does great things for this island. It brings in a lot of revenue," Randy Thomas said.
The meeting ended when Lorelei Monsanto said that if the taxi drivers wanted to fight the tour permit program, they needed to file a class-action lawsuit. She urged them all to sign a petition opposing the new fees.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.