St. Croix—The Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environmental and Planning, Chaired by Senator Alicia Barnes met Friday, October 16, 2020 in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Chamber.
After a brief reorganization of the agenda, the Committee then considered Bill No. 33-0340 – An Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 10, subchapter I, section 543 to require the Virgin Islands Port Authority to provide limited free parking at the Enighed Pond parking lot on the island of St. John. Sponsored by Senators Steven D. Payne, Sr., and Oakland Benta.
Virgin Islands Port Authority’s Executive Director, Carlton Dowe in a prepared statement indicated that the Authority strongly opposes the proposed Bill as it will negatively impact essential marine revenue and it will be detrimental to the Authority’s ability to meet its financial obligations. Dowe further informed the committee that by law, “we are required to charge user fees to fund our port operations, maintain our facilities and to expand and modernize the territory’s travel infrastructure. Apart from federal grants received primarily for the aviation division, VIPA’s main source of revenue is the fees we charge the users of our facilities.”
Jenifer O’Neal, Director of the Office of Management and Budget shared similar comments by indicating, “As a semi-autonomous agency, the Authority does not receive any funds from the central government to support their operations and must utilize the revenues generated from parking lots and other projects to fulfill their payroll and vendor obligations.”
After much discussion, committee members moved to hold the Bill in committee for further consideration.
The second item on the agenda was Bill No. 33-0250, which is an Act seeking to amend title 3, chapter 9, section 134a, subsection (b) of the Virgin Islands Code, relating to the duties of the Department of Public Works, Division of Capital Improvement in administering and coordinating capital improvement projects, to require that a Front-End Engineering and Design is completed for each capital improvement project of the various departments and agencies of the Government of the Virgin Islands before the procurement of construction services. A motion was made to have the Bill remove from the day’s agenda and the item was approved to be removed.
Bill No. 33-0108 – An Act amending title 12, chapter 10, section 402 of the Virgin Islands Code by requiring owners of shoreline property to provide the public with suitable access to the shorelines, imposing fines for failure to comply with this requirement, and granting the Department of Planning and Natural Resources enforcement and investigative authority regarding shoreline access. (Proposed by Senators Janelle K. Sarauw, Myron D. Jackson, and Kurt A. Vialet; Co-sponsored by: Alicia V. Barnes, Marvin A. Blyden and Allison DeGazon)
Jean-Pierre L. Oriol, Commissioner for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources said in his opening statement, “Although the Bill provides for the creation of easements when new developments are made in the coastal areas, it does not state that the owners will be compensated for dedicating the property for those easements. The failure to compensate may be considered a “Taking.” Oriol elaborated further by indicating, “If the main purpose is to provide access to the beaches, then maybe the Bill should be amended to include a definition of a beach, and the Bill should specifically apply to shoreline areas where there are “beaches”. The legislation as-is applies broadly to all shorelines, which covers a broader land area as defined in 12 VIC § 402(b).”
After deliberation on the Bill, an amendment was offered by Senator Myron Jackson and the measure voted on favorably and sent on the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.
The last item on the agenda was an update from representatives of the Executive Branch on the development of a Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan for the United States Virgin Islands.
Keith Richards, Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources told committee members that the department is currently engaged in multiple efforts that has resulted in proposed legislation, programs and initiatives that will provide guidance to the development, use and effective stewardship of our land and water resources of the territory.
Adrienne L. Williams-Octalien, Director of the Virgin Islands Office of Disaster Recovery (ODR), which is a component of the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority (PFA) said the Office of Disaster Recovery is in support of the effort to develop a comprehensive land and water use plan for the US. Virgin Islands. ODR has met with the Department of Planning & Natural Resources to provide guidance on available funding to further the initiative. “Funds are available in the planning section of the Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds that can support this endeavor, said Williams-Octalien, of ODR.
Committee members present for Friday’s meeting were: Alicia V. Barnes, Myron D. Jackson, Marvin A. Blyden, Allison L. DeGazon, Kenneth L. Gittens, Javan E. James, Sr., Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, and non-committee members: Steven D. Payne, Sr., Stedmann Hodge, Jr., Janelle K. Sarauw.