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Magens Bay Authority Encourages Solar Company; Discourages Boat Tours; Stands Non-Committal on ‘Friends’ Association; Deadlocks on Cruise Lines Conference

A bathhouse at Magens Bay could hold solar panels if the Magens Bay Authority moves favorably on a proposal it heard in its monthly meeting Friday. (Michele L Weichman photo)

The installation of solar panels at Magens Bay beach could potentially provide enough power to cover all the electrical needs there, according to a proposal aired Friday at a meeting of the Magens Bay Authority Board.

Solicited by the Authority as an economic and ecological move, the solar project proposal was one item on a wide-ranging agenda for the January monthly board meeting, which was held via Zoom.

Speaking on behalf of Pro Solar, Dan Whalen briefly reviewed the written proposal the company had submitted earlier. It envisions solar panels on the bathhouse closest to the concession stand near the entrance to the park.

“We’re not getting you off the grid,” he told the board, but the eventual energy consumption offset is estimated at 102 percent. The payback period on the project would be three and a half years and the return on investment 28.6 percent.

He advised against installing batteries for storage because of the additional expense. The park has minimal electrical usage at night and the daily solar collection can keep up with daily consumption, so there is no need for backup storage.

He also dissuaded the board from thinking it could earn credits through net metering or selling power back to the Water and Power Authority. Although WAPA is processing such requests, he said, there is a backlog of hundreds. Nevertheless, solar panels would be more than cost-effective.

Board Chair Barbara Petersen said the authority will follow up with Pro Solar to work on details.

The board also heard from St. Thomas resident Bill Grogan, whose previous business ventures include running Barnacle Bill’s restaurant and music venue in Sub Base, on a proposal to create an entity that would serve as an adjunct to the Authority.

The idea of the “Friends of the Parks of the Magens Bay Authority” is to promote, improve and expand the offerings of the parks for the community, as Grogan described it. He spoke in general terms of environmental workshops, social gatherings, a senior citizens exercise group and volunteer park clean-ups. One thing he assured the board that the association would not do is attempt to acquire property for the “Friends.”

He did not say who is involved in the effort besides himself and his wife, Judy. Attorney Vince Fuller is working with them.

Petersen asked Grogan to submit a written proposal, but he said he had given one to Authority staff in November. She said the board would continue talking with the group.

The board also heard a brief presentation from a representative of Shades of Blue Charter, who was not identified.

He said he had received a letter from the board saying his proposal to conduct water tours at Magens Bay had been rejected because of “negative environmental impact.”  He hoped to amend his proposal to address specific concerns but was still waiting for a detailed explanation of the decision that he said was promised months ago.

Petersen said the Authority would provide that by Feb. 3.

The board deadlocked on whether to participate in this year’s Sea Trade conference, an annual trade show conducted by the cruise ship industry. The V.I. Tourism Department customarily attends the event.

Petersen said representatives from the Authority attended the conference for the first time in 2022, where they met with people from cruise lines serving the territory and learned a lot attending various sessions. She asked for a motion in support of attendance in 2023.

There was no other discussion. The vote was split three to three. Board members Petersen, Cecile de Jongh, and Avery Lewis voted yes; members Dayle Barry, Katina Coulianos, and Robert Moron voted no. The seventh member, Jason Charles, was absent.

The group then tabled the question for later consideration.

In other action, the board voted unanimously to approve draft Request for Proposals for three concessions at Magens for beach rentals, a boutique, and for a food and beverage operation.

Reporting from the Committee on Labor Negotiations, Barry said collective bargaining agreements require the board to negotiate with staff for possible adjustments this summer.

In other references to staffing, Petersen said the Authority is moving to hire a chief of security full-time as of June; currently, the position is part-time.

There is a “major deficiency” in the number of lifeguards, she said, adding that it is a national issue.  The authority is recruiting state-side as well as on-island.

Reporting for the Committee on Property and Capital Projects, Moron said the Authority has made some modifications to plans to replace Shelter #1, which was damaged in the 2017 hurricanes. FEMA, which has approved a grant for the work, said the changes were needed to bring the project in compliance with regulations governing shorelines. Coastal Zone Management will also have to give its approval.

Moron said there are “three or four” repair items needing attention and funding, including work on a bathhouse, to the septic system and to the roadway. The Authority is also consulting with civil engineers to address the problem of excess outflow from the retention pond in times of heavy rains.

Operations manager MemorieAnne Brown-Callender reported that the inaugural Fairchild Day held at Magens Dec. 27 was a success. The event was instituted last year to commemorate the day in 1946 when Arthur S. Fairchild donated 56 acres of land at and near Magens Bay to the people of the Virgin Islands as a park.

Callender said there were 2,923 people on the beach that day. Between advertising and payments to various vendors, the cost of the event was $8,750. Two steelpan bands who entertained that day, the Rising Stars and the All Stars, didn’t charge for their services, nor did St. Thomas Rescue. The non-profit groups, however, have asked if the board might approve donations to them. There was no discussion.

Petersen noted that since the event is scheduled on a specific day of the month, it can fall during the week, as it did in 2022. She suggested the board may want to consider holding the event on a weekend to engender more participation.

While most of the Authority’s attention is focused on its namesake, it also oversees operations at Smith Bay Beach where amenities are far more limited. Petersen said that the board is still thinking of getting a food truck to provide refreshments at Smith Bay, but was unsuccessful in its attempt to hold a Food Truck Fest in order to determine the best vendor to serve in that capacity.  Only two people signed up to participate so it was not held.

Given that, Coulianos said, it seems time for the board to send out an RFP to find a food truck for Smith Bay.

At the request of Finance Chair Cecile de Jongh, the board voted unanimously to go into executive session to hear from the committee, citing personnel matters as the reason why that portion of the meeting was not open to the public.

Reporting back after the executive session, Petersen summarized it as having been a discussion of salaries and compensation and the position of chief of security, mentioning no action taken by the board.

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