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HomeNewsLocal government“No Weapons Allowed” on St. John; Department Officials Give 2024 Celebration Updates

“No Weapons Allowed” on St. John; Department Officials Give 2024 Celebration Updates

Testifiers speak to senators during the Committee on Homeland Security Justice and Public Safety hearing. (Photo by Alvin Burke Jr., Mario Fonreca and Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

On Tuesday, representatives from the Division of Festivals, V.I. Police Department, Health Department, Waste Management Authority, Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department, and the Public Works Department appeared before the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety to provide safety and permitting updates for the upcoming celebration on St. John.

While testifiers appeared confident that this year’s celebration on St. John will operate well, senators inquired about security and health measures taking place. One main safety concern on the Senate floor surrounded the carrying of firearms.

Sen. Dwayne DeGraff asked testifiers about the requirements the public should be aware of when traveling to St. John. Leaona Smith, assistant festival director for the Tourism Department, said a regular ID is required. Steven Phillips, chief of police, said security personnel and the TSA will conduct searches.

“No weapons allowed. Firearms, knives, anything are not allowed to come on the boat to come to St. John to have a good time. I know individuals have their personal firearms and they want to walk with it. No. Keep your firearm home, in your house, and come out to St. John and have a good time,” said Phillips.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens asked if carriers who are licensed can travel to St. John with their firearms. Phillips said that it is up to the boat captain to allow firearms, however it is not typical that persons are allowed to travel between St. John and St. Thomas with firearms.

“When individuals are drinking and smoking, it’s a bad mixture, and they don’t have common sense sometimes,” said Phillips.

Sens. Franklin Johnson and Alma Francis-Heyliger expressed concerns over the message Phillips relayed. Johnson said that as a retired law enforcement officer, he experienced an issue with a similar matter in the past when traveling to St. John.

“You cannot disarm a law enforcement officer or a retired law enforcement officer,” said Johnson, who added that a retired officer can travel throughout the country with a firearm. “When you all are putting out this information, be very clear about it. Be very clear about it. Because if I’m traveling with my licensed firearm no one is going to stop me from traveling and violate my rights as a U.S. citizen.”

“I am encouraging everyone with a firearm license not to come to St. John with a firearm,” said Philips.

Francis-Heyliger said she was “uneasy” with the message being put out by law enforcement since licensed gun owners have already been thoroughly screened to carry firearms.

“When you’re traveling with a firearm it must be declared,” said Gittens, who added that he also experienced a situation in the past when traveling with a firearm at the airport. “We are doing what we’re doing for the safety and well-being of the public. At the same time we have to make sure we get the information out,” said Gittens. He told the police department that they did an “excellent job” for the St. Croix Festival and St. Thomas Carnival with the public service announcements and encouraged all departments to do the same for St. John.

Additionally, Degraff inquired about dock construction in Cruz Bay and asked for an update on when it will be completed. Smith said that the Port Authority is expected to complete the construction on the dock and the taxi area by June 22, “hopefully.”

“They plan to have everything completed before the Carnival starts,” she said.

DeGraff also shared concerns surrounding COVID and public restroom cleaning schedules.

Reuben Molloy, assistant commissioner of the V.I. Health Department, responded that it would be a personal choice to wear masks.

“We continue to promote using protective measures to avoid any spread,” said Molloy.

Some senators expressed concern over the need for additional lighting in the Children’s Village and backup generators for the Village. Both the Police Department and Tourism Department will secure extra lighting and additional generators as needed for the celebration.

Sen. Ray Fonseca inquired about the boat schedule during the celebration activities. Smith said that after 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., the ferries will leave once full and will not run on schedule. Fonseca also inquired about business operations for the celebration, noting that during Carnival on St. Thomas, some business owners expressed that they were told they could not sell products.

“What we encountered in St. Thomas Carnival was that we had folks that had establishment permits but were operating way outside of their structure,” said Wanson Harris, director of Environmental Health. “What we don’t want is an establishment using their business permit or their health permit to go down the road, on the side of the road, to sell their products.”

In discussing vending, Director of Festivals Ian Turnbull also cautioned booth owners not to sell alcohol to minors.

“If they do, they will be fined,” said Turnbull.

Smith said that this year, there are 51 food fair vendors and 18 booth owners permitted for the celebration and that an additional six to eight vendors have requested special permits. She added that a booth fee this year in St. John is $1,500.

DeGraff and Gittens also cautioned celebration goers to remain hydrated during heat advisories, especially during the Parade, J’ouvert, and Food Fair.

Horace Graham, assistant commissioner of the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department, and Shena George-Esannason, St. John Solid Waste Collections manager for the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority, also provided testimony to the Senate.

Senators Dwayne DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Franklin Johnson, Kenneth Gittens, and Alma Francis-Heyliger were present at Tuesday’s hearing.

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