The sixth and final town hall meeting for residents to discuss future plans for water and land in the Virgin Islands drew 100 interested citizens Wednesday in addition to 200 who attended a forum Tuesday night.
The forums were sponsored by the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol explained the purpose of forming a plan and how the audience plays a part.
“It’s what we Virgin Islanders see the Virgin Islands looking like 30 or 40 years from now,” he said.
Oriol further explained that the territory has $12 billion to “reshape the Virgin Islands” and it’s important for the people to participate and not leave it up to the government.
The land and water proposal will not change any laws or regulations and acts as an umbrella to other governmental plans by Agriculture, Waste Management, or the Economic Development Authority. It’s a living document, said Jeff Daves, the forum facilitator, that expresses the community’s needs, desires, and long-term goals.
The workshop participants were asked to gather in groups and discuss three questions: What should be protected or remain as it is today? What should be strengthened? What should be transformed?
There were many answers to what aspects of the territory should be protected. People said historic buildings, the coastlines, aquifers and mahogany trees. Areas such as Maroon Ridge, Annaly Bay, Mt. Eagle, Blue Mountain and the East End should be preserved, some said. Beach access for the public on private property and guts should also be preserved, according to some of the audience.
There were a lot of answers to the question about what needed to change or be strengthened. Many people said laws and regulations should be better enforced — especially regarding historic preservation, littering, invasive species, and disposable plastic bags. Many people also felt the government should be required to restore vacant buildings rather than building new ones. “No more shopping malls or gas stations,” one person voiced and was applauded loudly.
Additionally, a maintenance budget for everything for which the government was responsible should be required. Several said the zoning laws should be changed to eliminate spot rezoning. The V.I. Water and Power Authority should move to the South Shore, many agreed.
Also, there should be more affordable housing and government aid to developers for building roads, sidewalks, gutters, etc. in new developments.
“It will help build a strong middle class and bring people back to the territory,” said one participant.
Participants also said the government should purchase undeveloped waterfront land for public access and reopen fishermen plots. Restoring ponds and water catchment areas was suggested as was cleaning guts (ditches for excess water runoff) on a regular basis. Erosion should be controlled and people should not be allowed to build on guts.
Many people had ideas for transforming the refinery: a deep water port, a hotel, a sports complex, and low-impact businesses — basically anything but a refinery. People also wanted industrial areas and the area around the airport “transformed.”
One of Wednesday’s groups answered “education” to all three questions — for children and adults.
“Education is one of the biggest things that has to be addressed,” said the group’s spokesman.
Several in the audience said they had participated in previous planning sessions. In 2003, Sen. Louis Hill proposed forming a land and water use plan after conservation organizations and residents called for one as far back as 2000. But nothing came of it until July 2022 when Oriol told the Senate the department was beginning to develop a plan.
Earlier, town hall meetings were held on St. Thomas and St. John. Once the responses have been compiled, the information will be available to the public at www.planusvi.com and a formal plan will be created. Residents can also use the website to file their own comments.