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Government’s Roadside Maintenance Questioned

Jan. 9, 2006—The second half of Monday's Senate meeting covered a miscellaneous list of topics, ranging from the construction of public bathrooms on St. John to roadside service and repair.
The Government Operations and Consumer Protection meeting was called by Committee Chair Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg to
obtain the status of services provided by Public Works in the territory. Public Works officials, Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs, and three local residents gave testimony with concerns about various local matters.
Wilma Marsh-Monsanto, a longtime St. John resident, spoke to senators about the construction of public restrooms at the Bordeaux Mountain Scenic Lookout on St. John. She said the fight to install the facilities has been ongoing for the past ten years.
Marsh-Monsanto added that she personally installed bathrooms in the area during the 1980s that were demolished in July 2000 by a National Park Service official who claimed there was seepage from the restroom's septic tank. Marsh-Monsanto said she believed the facility was destroyed because the National Park Service claimed she had constructed the bathroom on park land.
"We have some disputes on St. John when it comes to who owns properties," she said. "But that land is actually part of our family."
Ira Wade Jr., Public Works' deputy chief of operations on St. John, said he looked into getting the restrooms installed, but was also stopped by the National Park Service, which claimed the land was theirs. However, Wade said park officials did eventually give their approval for the project, but by then, the department "lost interest" in building the facility.
Wade said he had never been against the restrooms set up by Marsh-Monsanto, but said that Public Works did not have enough staff to maintain the facility at the time.
"I never knew who tore it down, or why it was destroyed," he said.
Wade told Donastorg that he would continue to move forward with the project, since public restrooms are "much needed in the St. John area."
Testimony given by St. Thomas residents Ralfston Greene Jr. of 1st Son Landscaping, and Calvin Charleswell of C. Equipment Rental, also expressed concern regarding the bidding process used by Property and Procurement to select contractors for roadside maintenance projects.
Donastorg said he was also curious about this issue, and requested copies of any documents related to Property and Procurement's "rating sheet bid system."
Biggs, commissioner of Property and Procurement, explained that once a Request for Proposal is sent from Public Works requesting contractors for roadside repair and maintenance, Property and Procurement develops a scope of work, and places an advertisement in local newspapers calling for bids from contractors. Once the bids are collected, contract proposals are reviewed and rated by a selection committee comprised of three Public Works officials and two officials from Property and Procurement.
Biggs said the criteria for the selection of contractors include qualification, responsiveness and dedication, experience and reference. Once the contractors are rated on this basis, the top proposals are chosen.
Greene and Charleswell told Biggs that they were passed over in a recent bidding process designed to contract ten crews for roadside cleanup and maintenance on St. Thomas, and two crews for roadside cleanup and maintenance on St. John.
Greene said he had fallen short by one point during the rating process, and asked Biggs why. While Biggs did not give a specific response to the question, he told Donastorg that such matters should be handled administratively instead of in a public forum.
Greene said he appeared at the Senate on Monday because Biggs had not responded to several letters he sent over the past few months.
Charleswell said he was unhappy that Phillips and "other key officials" did not attend the meeting.
On the topic of roadside crews, senators also questioned Public Works representatives about why roadside repair and maintenance projects — such as the cutting of shrubbery along roadways and the patching of potholes — were not progressing.
Roan Creque, Public Works deputy commissioner of operations on St. Thomas, said the department lacked the manpower and the funding to get many of the projects done.
"St. Thomas alone used to have 20 crews working on these kind of projects, but that costs about $4.2 million a year," he said. "We can't afford that."
Creque added that road projects are completed depending upon whether or not funding has been identified.
"We were given $5 million in PFA funds, which we used to pave roads last year, and there was money allotted in the Omnibus bill for other specified projects," he said. "For the other projects to be completed, generally money has to be given to us for that purpose."
Senators questioned Creque on the re-paving of the road that runs from the National Guard Armory on St. Thomas to the Red Hook ferry dock. Creque said a combination of Public Works, V.I. Port Authority, and federal funds are supposed to pay for the project, but it cannot be completed until construction on the new ferry terminal is finished.
Senators further questioned officials on the status of other roads in the territory.
Donastorg concluded by saying he will be holding a follow-up meeting within the next few weeks to better determine the status of Public Works services in the territory.
Present on Monday were Sens. Liston Davis, Donastorg, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Shawn-Michael Malone, and Terrence "Positive" Nelson. Absent from the meeting were Sens. Louis Patrick Hill and Ronald E. Russell.

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