June 15, 2005 — Troubed by conditions in his own Bovoni neighborhood, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone called for an amendment to the V.I. Code to increase fines for abandoned vehicles around the territory and for operating unlicensed auto repair businesses.
"Ive seen the Abandoned Vehicle Task Force clean up some areas around the island repeatedly, but people are towing their cars and leaving them anywhere," Malone said, adding that the current fine is definitely not enough to discourage the practice of dumping cars.
"We need to send people the message that we will not tolerate litter, junk, or irresponsibility," Malone said with conviction.
Testimony from James OBryan Jr., chairman of the Abandoned Vehicle Task Force, supported Malone's call for increased fines.
"In the last two years alone, there have been 3,500 abandoned cars removed from the St. Thomas-St. John area," OBryan said, "and in many of these cases we feel that these cars present a threat to our neighborhoods because they are being used to hide contraband and drugs and serve as covers for other illegal activities."
OBryan added that towing junk vehicles away is improving the quality of life in many neighborhoods, and that residents, on occasion, have come out and applauded the efforts.
OBryan also said that junk cars and other refuse could create hazards in the event of hurricanes.
The task force seeks to implement a $100 to $1,000 fee — solely determined by a judge — to be charged for cars that the organization has to tow away, detoxify, and crush at the Bovoni landfill.
Roan Creque, assistant commissioner of the Department of Public Works, said that a restriction on landfill use for the last year and a half has meant that there hasnt been a place to dispose of the junk cars.
However, he said progress is being made. "Things like machinery needed to shred tires are already on the island were just waiting for the approval to put them in place at the landfill site."
Creque continued, "Once these facilities are in place, residents can take vehicles down there themselves and pay significantly less money to have them destroyed."
OBryan noted that "the [increased] fines will cover the cost of towing these vehicles and disposing of them," adding that current government costs for disposal is much more than the fine. "This bill will sting the pocketbooks of those people who are doing a disservice to the community," O'Bryan said.
Later, some concerns were raised by senators over loopholes in the bill's language and the difficulty in determining ownership of the cars. Consequently, the Committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection voted to send the bill to the Rules Committee for amendments to its language.
The bills second component — instituting fines for automotive businesses not licensed or properly zoned — raised some concerns that neighborhood mechanics could lose their livelihoods as a result of the bill's language.
"I cannot support this measure because it is too broad in its scope," stated Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville, "and it is going to penalize many of our young entrepreneurs who use these little businesses as a means of survival. I would prefer not to deter these young people from wanting to better themselves."
This part of the measure was also sent to the Rules Committee for review and revision.
Present at Wednesdays meetings were Sens. Donastorg, Figueroa-Serville, Davis, Russell, Malone, and Nelson. Sen. David was absent.
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