Creatively combination training and public service, the V.I. Army National Guard will help build an access road and demolish an abandoned hotel at Salt River Bay on St. Croix’s north shore this summer and fall, restoring the land to a more natural state.
The work will help prepare the way for the long-planned Salt River Bay Marine Research and Education Center campus, according to a statement from Delegate Donna Christensen. The research campus will be a collaborative effort of several agencies and universities, including the National Park Service.
Maj. Donald Woodley, joint director of military support for the V.I. National Guard, said Friday the work is being done as part of individual readiness training. In emergencies, the Guard has to be ready to plan and carry out big projects in the community, Woodley said.
"We will be able to use our equipment to help the community while training to be more effective at our jobs, so this is an excellent opportunity for the National Guard," he said.
The scope of work includes removal and redevelopment of construction materials; shoreline stabilization along the western end of the peninsula; and construction of a park access road 6,700 feet from Bennie Benjamin Road into the park, according to a statement from Delegate Donna Christensen.
“This is a great real-world training opportunity for the hard-working men and women of the Virgin Islands Army National Guard,” said Christensen. “The goal of the readiness training program is to prepare our service members and units for their wartime missions while supporting the needs of America’s underserved communities.”
In February, Tip Top Construction began clearing a haul-road and will soon do some of the preliminary demolition, said National Park Superintendent Joel Tutein this week. When that is done, Woodley said the Guard will demolish the entire site and bring it back to something like its natural state.
"When we are done, it is possible the final park road will be in place as well," Woodley said.
From the Park Service perspective, a road would be a blessing. "Once that is finished, the visiting public will no longer have to go through a gated community," Tutein said.
The Park Service began talking to the Guard back in 2004 about demolishing the hotel, said Tutein.
"This started with (Brig. Gen.) Eddie Charles, who was very supportive and now (Brig. Gen. Renaldo) Rivera has picked up the project," he said. With that high-level support, the Guard applied to the Pentagon for readiness training, he said.
The Guard has about $2 million for the work this year, and will be devoting about 55 personnel to it at any given time, Woodley said. Work will continue through the fall and possibly longer, he said.