St. Thomas

St. John

St.Croix

BEACH ACCESS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES APPROVED BY COMMITTEE

Published: Oct 14, 2020

ST. CROIX– The Committee on Youth, Sports, Parks, and Recreation, led by Senator Javan E. James Sr., met on Tuesday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Chambers, where testimony was received on Bill No. 33-0220. Sponsored by Senators Steven Payne and Oakland Benta, the Act provides for the construction of ramps or walkways for at least two beaches in each island district that would allow persons with disabilities to gain access to the beaches.

Leon Hunt, Chairman of the Virgin Islands Sports Commission (VISC), Multi-Sports, Private Sector, gave an update regarding the Handbook and Policy Manual of the Commission. The Handbook contains official information concerning sports officers and administration, organization, rules and regulations, and activities programs.

According to Hunt, the Officers and Administration of the VISC include Hugo Hodge, Jr., Vice-Chairman, Territorial Chair, Virgin Islands Horse Racing Commission; Lucille Hobson, General Secretary, President-Virgin Islands Volleyball Federation; Calvert White, Treasurer, Commissioner, Sports, Parks, and Recreation (Ex-officio); Angel “Chico” Morales, President, Virgin Islands Olympic Committee; Kennard Callendar, VIDE designee (Director, Division of Sports & amp; Athletics); Joseph Boschulte, Commissioner of Tourism; Wayne Biggs, Jr., CEO, Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority; Nels Hawkinson, Executive Director, Basketball Travelers, Private Sector; Hillaren Frederick, Virgin Islands Soccer Association; Dennis Brow, President, Virgin Islands Baseball Federation; Tony Rosario, Territorial Chair, Virgin Islands Boxing and Wrestling Commission; and Arthur Hector, Sr., Territorial Chair, Virgin Islands Automobile Racing Commission.

In his testimony on Bill No.33-0220 Commissioner Calvert White, Department of Sports, Parks, and Recreation (DSPR) noted that the Department was in the process of acquiring equipment to make our beaches accessible for our disabled visitors. During their research, White learned that the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) had a $50,000 grant that could be used to install buoys at beaches in the territory. He added that they identified five beaches in the territory as potential sites to install the Access Mats—portable and removable roll-out access routes used in a multitude of applications for individuals with disabilities.

The potential five beach sites for the AccessMats include Coki Point, Lindbergh Bay, Magens Bay, Cramers Park, and Fort Frederick Beach. DSPR applied for and received the DPNR grant and conducted the procurement process to secure the equipment.

Comm. White called on the Committee to amend the Bill to allow the funds to be used to enhance beaches in any way that will assist in ensuring that they are ADA compliant; including a transfer platform for visitors who use wheelchairs to transfer into the beach buggy wheelchairs, additional beach buggy wheelchairs, upgrades to bathrooms, sheds, signage and other forms of media to alert the public of the changes.

Kimberly Causey-Gomez, Commissioner, VI Department of Human Services, said the Bill would undoubtedly improve the value of life for persons with disabilities and our senior citizens with mobility challenges and families who have small children in strollers. She indicated that several beaches on St. John provided accessible paths, parking, restrooms, and changing stations. The Virgin Islands National Park and the Office of the ADA Coordinator collaboratively can provide guidance and make recommendations about the dimensions, location, and overall construction of the ramps.

Jenifer O’Neal, Director, Office of Management and Budget, said the form of the proposed Bill mentions the Caribbean Basin Initiative Fund but does not request a direct appropriation from that fund. Instead, it asks that money be appropriated from the General Fund based on appropriation transfer to the General Fund from the Caribbean Basin Initiative Fund.

According to O’Neal, the fiscal impact of Bills proposed is of utmost importance to her, buts she also considers the value of the goals identified. She added that although she agrees that everyone should experience our beautiful beaches, she is unsure as to the practicality of this endeavor, and since she is aware of at least one ramp at a beach that while it does provide access from the road to the beach, it does not provide a path for any disabled individual to access the water. Additionally, it is also unclear how just four ramps can cost $1 million.

O’Neal said she could not support this funding request from the General Fund, especially when the new fiscal year’s budget was just approved, and revenues for the Fiscal Year 2021 are unknown at best.

Senator Payne, Sr., the Bill sponsor, clarified the intent to OMB Director by introducing an amendment to the Bill by striking all language in the subsection of the Bill that reads: “There is appropriated in the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2020, and ending September 30, 2021, the sum of $125,000 from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund; the sum of $125,000 from the St. Thomas Capital Improvement Fund; and the sum of $125,000 from the St. Croix Improvement Fund to provide access to public beach waters for persons with disabilities.

Troy de Chabert Schuster, AARP State Director for the Virgin Islands, said they support Bill No. 33-0222 because having access to community spaces is essential. The Bill, he pointed out, allows people to have a sense of community while promoting social belonging as they age. It supports the creation of mixed-use and livable communities.

The Bill was amended and voted out of the Committee with a favorable recommendation to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

At Tuesday’s meeting were: Chairman Javan James, Sr., Vice-Chair Steven Payne, Sr., Senators Oakland Benta, Sr., Kurt Vialet, Stedmann Hodge, Jr., Dwayne DeGraff, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Marvin Blyden, and Kenneth Gittens.

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