Coki Beach is seeing more trash pickup service, has more police patrols, is getting better road access, sidewalks and better management, agency officials told senators Monday at a hearing of the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation.
The hearing was a followup on a February hearing where Sen. Myron Jackson aired concerns about the state of the beach and of businesses there, and asked police, Tourism and other agencies to come up with an improvement plan. (See Related Link below)
The restrooms have been repainted and cleaned up and trash pickup has increased from once a day to twice a day, Assistant Sports, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Calvert White told the senators.
The department still needs more lifeguards, and currently only has one guard, five days a week, which he said is not enough. Last year, they had four lifeguards on St. Thomas, with one at Lindberg Bay, one at Brewers Bay and two at Coki Point, he said. But one resigned and they have not had enough for the area since then.
Once they hire one, "there will always be two lifeguards at Coki Point Beach," White said.
Police Sports, Parks and Recreation Department Grounds and Maintenance Coordinator Rudy Clarke said every business on the beach had been checked for business licenses and those with expired licenses were given 30 days to come into compliance. He said an employee had been hired to maintain the restrooms too.
Acting St. Thomas Police Chief Jason Marsh said there are more patrols now and three officers will be assigned to cover Coki Point.
Pamela Richards, the assistant commissioner of administration for Public Works, said the government has already replaced a large apron of asphalt with poured concrete and other work, and is in the middle of work replacing guardrails and putting in culverts and some paving, which should be done in the next month or so. After that, Public Works will do about $1 million of work on 15,077 feet of road sidewalk, subsurface drainage and more, she said.
The committee also heard from car racing enthusiasts and government agencies about the possibility of a new car racing facility on St. Thomas. Prospects do not look good for the near future. Assistant Property and Procurement Commissioner Timothy Lake said his agency had looked at three potential locations that may have enough space for a 1/8th mile drag racing course and another 2,000 feet for potential run-over. They looked at land by Bovoni Landfill, near Price Mart and west of Red Hook. Of the three, Bovoni showed the most promise, he said, "acknowledging we do have severe limitations on available, appropriate land on St. Thomas."
Waste Management Authority officials said there was not really enough at Bovoni due in part to federal restrictions on wetlands. Mario Leonard, Solid Waste Director for the St. Thomas, St. John, Water Island district, testified that while the Authority is in support of a professional drag strip on the island, it could not locate one at the Bovoni Landfill.
“The Authority indicated to the government team that this is not feasible because the land simply does not exist to site the track there,” Leonard said, adding that while it “may visually seem that there is adequate land available” a portion of the existing 311 public road will encroach on the wetlands delineation line.
Senators asked officials to renew the search for a site as soon as possible.
Senators also heard testimony about the use of $50,000 per year in V.I. Lottery revenues to take care of retired racehorses on St. Thomas. Evelyn Shoemaker, president of the Golden Age Ranch, spoke about the work her organization does to nurse retired and injured racehorses back to health.
“Golden Age Ranch is a nonprofit 501(c)3 horse sanctuary that at present is caring for 20 horses; 17 came directly from the race track,” she said.
“We are fortunate to be able to raise enough money to cover expenses. However, I am hoping to receive more funding to enable the debts owed in improvements to the land to be paid off. I am specifically referring to the construction costs which exceed $200,000.”
Dr. Bethany Bradford, Director of Veterinary Services for the VI Department of Agriculture also testified.
“Retired race horses in the V. I. in general have limited options,” she said. “In St. Thomas, some of the horses are eligible for relocation to the states by Virgin Islands Horse Rescue and Retirement. Others have been retired to the Golden Age Ranch for trail riding and retirement. These are good options and are well deserving of continued funding, but these options are limited and consume many resources," Bradford said.