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Business / Featured / News / Virgin Islands / February 23, 2016

ST. CROIX — At first, it seemed as if a town hall meeting organized by Senators Kenneth Gittens, Novelle Francis Jr., Kurt Vialet, Sammuel Sanes and Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly to give a status update on the La Reine Fish Market, and the $822,000 set aside through the Department of Public Works for repairs, would fall apart soon after being called to order. That’s because Mapp administration officials present at the Central High School Curriculum Center on Monday night were concerned that the small number of fishermen who attended would give only a partial understanding of the problems.

But as soon as the floor was turned over to the ten or so fishermen at the meeting, a consensus started to build on how to move forward.

Fisherman Edward Schuster, who spoke of sabotage by fishermen who did not want the facility to thrive, backed the idea of keeping the market at its current location. He said while assailants had thrown jeans and cans, among other disruptive items in pipes to clog drainage, leasing the maintenance portion of the facility to an outside firm would bolster security.

Mr. Schuster also highlighted the waste of utilities by fishermen. He said the water bill had climbed to as much as $2,500 because the market was being used as a car wash. People would also fill water containers to store at their home for personal use, he said.

With other fishermen backing his stance, Mr. Schuster said the best way forward was to keep the same facility and lease the stalls — there are about 25 now — to fishermen, who would be responsible for their water and power consumption. “When it’s you paying, you will not waste,” Mr. Schuster said, receiving approving nods from fishermen, senators and government officials present.

It was a tipping point for the meeting in regards to a direction forward. The lawmakers and Mapp administration officials had their fears allayed, pivoting the conversation into the issue of quality control.

“The Fish Market is a quality of life issue,” Mr. Francis said, adding that rules must be put in place to assure that the environment is sanitary, which he said would be a “win-win” for the community.

Other senators agreed, with Mr. Vialet stating that the fishermen were operating in little wooden shacks at the same location, which he said meant that they wanted to be at the La Reine location. It was also a rebuttal to the notion that the fishermen wanted to be near the ocean instead.

Pleased with the discussion, Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dawn Henry pledged her full support and that of the three divisions within D.P.N.R. that play a direct role in the fishing industry: Fish and Wildlife, Environmental Protection and Environmental Enforcement.

Yet, even with the consensus, construction problems persists. A contractor who had done an assessment of the battered facility said the drainage pipes were severely undersized, which led to clogging. Because of this, residents neighboring the facility have had problems with fish waste stench, and have complained that they can’t enjoy the outside of their homes. Good news is, the contractor said that the $822,000 allocated for repairs would be just about enough to rectify not only the drainage problem, but also erect new stalls that fishermen would be required to lease.

In a brief conversation with Mr. Francis following the town hall, the first-term Democrat told The Consortium that the next step will be an Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning meeting in March, where similar testimony will be given on record.

“Tonight was really a guidance to the [Pubic Works] commissioner in relation to whether we want to build at the current fish market or relocate,” he said. “I think clearly, the consensus is to stay at the current location and move forward with construction plans.”

The panel addressing the group at the meeting included St. Croix Administrator Stephanie Williams, Public Works Commissioner Gustav James, Ms. Henry, Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Robles, Retired Agriculture Commissioner Henry Schuster  and Property and Procurement Commissioner Randolph Bennett.

Former Agriculture Commissioners Lawrence Lewis and Arthur Petersen Jr. were also in attendance.

Senator Gittens thanked his colleagues – Senators Francis, Vialet, Mr. Sanes and Almando Liburd for showing an equal amount of passion and interest in finding solutions to the vexing problem that has now languished for years.


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Ernice Gilbert
I wear many hats, I suppose, but the one which fits me best would be journalism, second to that would be radio personality, thirdly singer/songwriter and down the line. I've been the Editor-In-Chief at my videogames website, Gamesthirst, for over 5 years, writing over 7,000 articles and more than 2 million words. I'm also very passionate about where I live, the United States Virgin Islands, and I'm intent on making it a better place by being resourceful and keeping our leaders honest. VI Consortium was birthed out of said desire, hopefully my efforts bear fruit. Reach me at [email protected].

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