The Virgin Islands took another step towards disaster mitigation with the announcement Friday of its latest public-private partnership.
In reaching an agreement with executives of Sugar Bay Resort, top officials of the Mapp administration expanded the plan to create a long term emergency shelter system.
As was the case when the first deal was struck with executives from the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Resort in early October, a portion of the resort property will receive financial help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Federal funds will be used to harden the infrastructure to resist wind damage from catastrophic storms.
Mitigation plans also call for increasing Sugar Bay’s ability to provide sustainable power, kitchen facilities, rooms with beds and wastewater systems. Those shelters would also be built to accommodate pre-disaster management teams from the Virgin Islands as well as those arriving from off island.
Increasing these capacities will give the Virgin Islands a way to serve the needs of displaced victims of disaster in the event of future catastrophes, Gov. Kenneth Mapp said.
“I’ve signed a letter of intent with the owners of Sugar Bay to work with them, to secure federal emergency management funds for the hardening of sections of this hotel, that will be designated again as a shelter for Virgin Islands residents in the district of St. Thomas and St. John,” Mapp said Friday.
The governor explained the territory’s emergency sheltering system proved inadequate in the passage of back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes in September 2017.
“Given what we experienced with Hurricanes Irma and Maria, we are able to go out into the private sector and to work with private sector partners for the designation of sheltering. The Federal Emergency Management Agency do invest in private facilities so that pre-disaster shelters and areas that can accommodate sheltering services can be opened and made available to the community,” the governor said.
At the time the first partnership of this kind was announced with executives at Diamond Rock Resorts — owners of the Reef — Mapp introduced a bill to the Legislature that would allow hotels to pass along a hurricane recovery fee to their guests. On Friday the governor said the hotel recovery fee is not limited for use by major hotel properties. Members of his administration elaborated.
“The fee is applicable to any Virgin Islands hotel that wants to apply,” said Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty.
Up until this point, emergency shelters could be found in public buildings, mainly public schools. A number of those shelters – such as the Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John and the E. Benjamin Oliver Elementary School on St. Thomas – suffered significant structural damage in Hurricane Irma. St. Thomas emergency shelter manager Bruce Flamon, who spoke to the Source in a September interview, said the damage there was so bad occupants had to be evacuated in the middle of the night.
On Friday the governor said some public shelters may be used again, after school buildings are evaluated. Most likely they will be used during mild to moderate emergenies where occupants can return home within a day or two.
But once the new sheltering system is place, it will be up to local emergency managers to direct those needing shelter to the appropriate location.
“This will be a tremendously more better way to house folks, to feed folks, to protect folks,” Mapp said.
Representatives of the New York-based ownership group that currently lists Sugar Bay among their properties said they favored the deal. They also expressed their intention to reopen the resort as a world class destination.
According to Sugar Bay General Manager Ronald Maidens, preparations for that step are already in progress. Demolition of storm damaged rooms has already begun, he said. Roof repair is also underway.
About 80 percent of storm debris has been removed. Mold and mildew remediation has taken place.
Since the passage of the two major storms, Sugar Bay has been closed to the public but has made its usable accommodations available to relief workers and construction crews helping the territory recover.
Resort managers say they expect the resort will be ready to reopen within a year to 18 months.