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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, July 24, 2024


Recent editorials in the St. Thomas Source and the Daily News about the dirty condition of St. Thomas on the eve of Sinbad's music festival really struck a chord with me because less than two weeks earlier I had returned from a business trip to Guam (my second in two years) and some of the contrasts between the two islands were almost shocking.
On both of my visits to Guam, one thing that stood out above everything else was how clean the island was.
On both occasions I had a weekend day to tour the island and take a leisurely six-plus hour drive completely around its length and width. (Incidentally, Guam is about twice the size of all the Virgin Islands combined.)
Everywhere I drove — through downtown Agaña (recently renamed Hagatña) and the nearby tourist district, along the coastline and past small country villages, through the interior mountainsides and the relatively deserted areas near the large U.S. military bases, and at various historic and scenic spots — the roads were smoothly paved, the roadside grass and shrubs were neatly trimmed, and there was no garbage or abandoned vehicles lying around.
Not a single historic or scenic site had commercial activity in the form of vendors to disturb the natural beauty or cultural significance of the location (and yes, Guam was teeming with visitors, mainly from Japan). The only negative I saw was occasional graffiti on otherwise blank roadside walls.
Even more surprising, I saw no roadside cleanup crews, which suggests that the residents of Guam do their individual part to keep their island clean by not littering.
In contrast, before my trip to Guam, I drove around St. Thomas to take some pictures that I could carry with me to "show off" my home island to my fellow Office of Inspector General auditors on Guam. Unfortunately, the picture-taking wasn't an easy task.
First, almost everywhere the grass and bush were almost as tall as my 6-foot height, and it felt as though I was driving inside a green tunnel. Places that would otherwise afford beautiful views of the harbor, St. John and the British Virgin Islands, Magens and Hull bays, or the many small islands that surround St. Thomas were almost hidden from view by the grass and bush.
Even with the tall grass, while driving around the East End, along Valdemar Hill Sr. (formerly Skyline) Drive, and the Northside, the continuous stream of roadside litter was clearly visible. The few scenic overlooks that remain on St. Thomas were filled with taxis and lined with T-shirt vendors.
I remember, when growing up, that even as a child I could sit in the bench at Drake's Seat and have an unobstructed view of Magens Bay and the islands that stretch to the horizon. Not any more! Now the view from Drake's Seat is of a safari van parking lot and T-shirt marketplace.
In the end, I somehow managed to take some pictures that deceptively show a St. Thomas that is vastly cleaner and more inviting than the reality.
I know that the immediate reaction will be to blame the government (specifically the Department of Public Works) for the poor condition of our islands. To some extent, particularly with regard to the roadside grass and bush, I guess that's where the blame belongs.
However, all of us who live in the Virgin Islands have to take some pride in our home and simply not litter! We can't expect the government to follow us around as if we were little children and pick up our trash after us. If we continue to take that attitude, then the government needs to dole out some punishment in the form of stiff fines.
I came home from Guam with one thought clearly in my mind about that island and its residents — they have an immense amount of pride in their island and they treat it with respect.
Our Virgin Islands are every bit as naturally beautiful as Guam, and we should therefore treat our islands with the same pride and respect. Let's all do our part to keep them clean for our visitors, but more importantly, for ourselves.
Editor's note: Arnold van Beverhoudt Jr. is a native of St. Thomas and serves as the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General's director of insular area audits. The views expressed in this article represent his personal opinions.

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