Jan. 8, 2004 – Several weeks after flooding effectively closed the Division of Motor Vehicles on St. Thomas, officials with the Police Department — the agency with oversight of the division — are issuing guidelines for motorists and car rental agents who can no longer obtain the services provided there.
A growing number of St. Thomas drivers have been crossing Pillsbury Sound seeking help from the St. John DMV, but officials said Wednesday they can't expect to find much relief there. "There will be no other service on St. John other than the vehicle transfers. No other service will provided in St. John," said police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Hannah.
Because of St. John's smaller population and the proportionately smaller number of vehicles in need of government services, Hannah said there are only limited resources available there to address any overflow from St. Thomas. He especially urged St. Thomas motorists not to bring their vehicles over to St. John for inspection because they will not be able to find help there.
"That will be a useless trip because they will just tell you, you need to go back to St. Thomas," he said Wednesday.
A resident's dilemma
St. Thomas Realtor Mucki Wesley is headed for Germany soon, but she's facing one big obstacle: Her Virgin Islands driver's license expired Jan. 3, and she can't seem to get it renewed so she can rent a car on her trip.
"I've been trying since Christmas," she said. She completed paperwork and paid her money in St. Thomas, but the staff there told her to go to St. John's Motor Vehicle Bureau to complete the licensing process. When she called St. John, she said she was told their machine doesn't work.
Although the Motor Vehicle Bureau stapled some paperwork to her expired driver's license indicating her license was valid, that just doesn't cut the mustard with rental car companies.
She said she called Hertz and Avis in Germany, but they just laughed when she told them she needed to use an expired license with papers stapled to it. Additionally, she won't be able to drive when she visits her daughter in Florida.
While the entire situation has frustrated her, she's especially annoyed that she can't get any answers as to when the system will again be working.
Compounding the problem, DMV director Anthony Olive said, the telephone lines at the St. Thomas office are down right now. The phone service is "sporadic," Hannah said.
The Police Department's response
Hannah said Thursday afternoon a procedure for renewing licenses for people who must travel off-island has been developed. "Go to the DMV on St. Thomas with the expired license and one other form of ID," Hannah said. "And fill out a renewal form and pay the fee." A receipt will be issued and attached, along with the expired license to the renewal form. "That will be your license," Hannah said.
"You must keep that on your person," he said, adding, "I have suggested to people that they try to find a plastic sleeve to put the documents in, because we don't know how long the computers are going to be down."
In the case of stolen licenses, he said, people must file a police report and then take it to DMV. If a license has been lost, the driver can get an affidavit from Motor Vehicles, sign it and have it notarized and bring it back.
One catch with missing licenses, he said, if that "if they were computer generated, you need to know when they were issued" in order to get a renewal or replacement license.
Bureau woes and curtailed services
The St. Thomas DMV was completely closed for a week after unexpectedly heavy November rains disabled phone lines and computer systems, rendered the bathrooms unusable and flooded the area behind the office used for vehicle inspections. "The Motor Vehicles Division was completely destroyed as a result of flooding," Hannah said.
Workers at the DMV spent the week of Dec. 17 cleaning up the mess. One week later the office re-opened, performing limited inspections and conducting road tests. But with an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 motorists lining up for inspections, road tests, license renewals and other services, officials acknowledge it was impossible for them to keep up with demand.
Whatever inspections are taking place on St. Thomas are now arranged by appointment only. New vehicles and those operated by rental agencies are being processed.
Registrations for previously owned vehicles are not being conducted at this time. Those who cannot complete the inspection process can get their registration signed by a DMV inspector.
"As long as you have your registration signed by an inspector, you have that waiver to drive your vehicle without penalty," Hannah said.
Drivers whose registrations expired in November and December 2003 and are expiring in January 2004 can qualify for a waiver of inspection. Vehicles currently bearing registrations for the years 2001, 2002 and 2003 which were previously subject to exemption from the DMV also qualify for a waiver.
However, Hannah warned that drivers with October or September registrations who did not come in for inspection by their normally scheduled deadlines at the end of the month will not qualify and are subject to ticketing and fines if stopped by a police officer.
The St. Thomas DMV office can currently assist only those seeking vehicle clearances, special permits, certificates of titles, tax-exempt letters, road tests and written tests, plus the service to those with expired licenses outlined Thursday afternoon.
Written tests for drivers' licenses are being administered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursdays. The St. Thomas inspection lane is open from 7 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Because conditions in the DMV office are still affected by flooding, office hours are from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Hannah said there is no indication when full operations will resume at the St. Thomas motor vehicles bureau.
Editor's note: Lynda Lohr and Shaun Pennington contributed to this article.
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