March 23, 2006 — The ongoing saga over the Frenchtown Gustave Quetel Fishing Center renovation hit another snag Thursday.
After a series of meetings over the past six weeks, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources announced at a hastily called meeting Thursday evening, that the structure's roof must come off.
A Feb. 23 meeting between DPNR officers and the fishermen ended on a happy note. The two groups had agreed on a time schedule which allowed the fishermen to continue plying their wares during the construction (See "New Plans Provided for Frenchtown Fishing Center").
But Lucia Roberts Francis, DPNR Environmental Enforcement Division director, told the fishermen Thursday that the roof construction would require their equipment to be out of the building by Monday. The work is expected to take a month.
Jimmy Magner, St. Thomas Fishermen's Association president, and about 20 others gathered at the water's edge by the fishing boats, raised strong objections, especially at the short notice.
Francis said she wanted the fishermen's input. And she got it. "What are you trying to do to us," several fishermen asked. Magner suggested giving the fishermen a week, until March 31, to move their equipment and Francis agreed. Magner told the fishermen, "The work is going to have to be done, we have no choice, so let's agree on when."
He was given assurances by Francis that the fishermen would be able to continue selling their fish in their usual area during the roof construction. "That won't be touched," she said. "You are free to use it."
The fishermen were bewildered about the sudden change in plans. Magner said, "We've been telling them for years that the roof leaked, and now they are listening? We've needed a new roof since [Hurricane] Hugo."
Claudette Lewis, DPNR deputy commissioner, who was not present Thursday, has said in past meetings that she has taken several "walk-throughs" with the contractor. In answer to why the roof construction was only now coming up, if the contractor had already looked at it, Francis said that the initial plans for the center were laid "four years ago." She said since then, the roof had deteriorated.
Francis and Magner agreed to hold another meeting at the bayside March 30 to go over a new schedule, which will postpone the project's completion beyond the previously projected August date.
"It won't be finished this year," said one disgruntled fisherman as he walked off.
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