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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 15, 2024


Technically, St. John doesn't have a legislator to call its own, although the at-large senator, while elected territory-wide, must live on the island and by tradition protects its interests. Practically speaking, it has, for the time being, two. And they seem to be having a rocky road of it, with the prospects for improved relations between now and November not looking rosy.
Case in point: the prospects for accessing federal transportation funds to develop the Enighed Pond cargo port on St. John – a project more than 20 years in the planning.
Sen. Roosevelt David issued a release Thursday touting a way for the territory to come up with $65 million in new money for Enighed Pond and other projects without incurring any more debt, utilizing funds available through the federal Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).
On Friday, Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd issued a release saying he had on June 13 "submitted a drafting request to appropriate $4 million from the TEA-21 funds, to be given to the V.I. Port Authority to begin construction" of the Enighed Pond project.
It was not a case of great minds thinking alike.
Liburd in his release said he was "disgusted" with David's day-earlier announcement "that he and some of his colleagues had come up with the idea of leveraging TEA-21 funds" for Enighed Pond. Further, he said, David's statement "was shocking," given that nearly a month earlier, he, Liburd, had submitted a request for TEA-21 funds for the same purpose.
David's response: "We have approached creative financing" while Liburd "has requested an appropriation. He's talking about peanuts compared to the $65 million that we are getting. This is maximizing."
David said his proposal is "to leverage the $12.7 million in TEA funds from 1999 through 2003 to get $65 million."
Liburd in his release said, "Senator David and his colleagues are not leveraging any monies for the construction of Enighed Pond. As the election draws near, it seems that some of my colleagues are desperately trying to grab onto issues that would help them leverage their own campaigns."
David, a former banker, said he learned from several investment bankers "that the territory had yet to take advantage of a funding opportunity called the GARVEE Bond Program, which securitizes future federal aid dollars to fund projects today." (GARVEE stands for Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, and detailed information about the program can be found through a search under GARVEE on the Internet.)
Under TEA-21, David said, "the Virgin Islands will have a bonding capacity of $65, which can be used for a series of local projects." He is proposing to "develop a bond issue" to fund the Enighed port on St. John, a Red Hook marine terminal on St. Thomas and the Christiansted road bypass project on St. Croix.
The Public Finance Authority would issue the bonds, David said. He said he has talked with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull about the idea and the governor "wants it to move forward." He added, "It doesn't touch our debt at all. The debt service is through the federal government."
In response to Liburd's accusations, David said, "Senator Liburd has been in office for 10 years, the Enighed project has been around for approximately 30 years and federal highway funds have been available for 20 years. Why didn't he introduce the bill to leverage the funds?"
Liburd stated in his release that he has been working on "bringing the Enighed Pond project to reality" since 1993, when he introduced a bill, subsequently enacted, to transfer title of Enighed Pond to the Port Authority and to waive Coastal Zone Management fees for the marine terminal. He said he has written "numerous letters throughout the years urging the various administrations to begin work immediately."
Liburd said he wrote Turnbull on June 19, 1999, asking him to move on the cargo facility project and "urged him to commit some of the Federal Highway Program funds to the Enighed Pond project." He added, "Receiving no response, I went ahead and submitted a drafting request to do such."
Cruz Bay has become a crowded place for marine as well as land traffic in recent years, and no one disputes the need for expanded docking facilities. All cargo vessels now must tie up along the Cruz Bay Creek dock, in from the U.S. Customs and Immigration office and the new V.I. National Park Visitor Center, and space is at a premium both in the water and on the dock.
Virtually everything sold on St. John is transported from St. Thomas. Garbage generated on St. John is transported to St. Thomas. The truck traffic never stops, and the demand for barge transportation for motor vehicles between the two islands has spawned a fleet of large roll-on, roll-off vessels that continues to grow.
With the new Starfish supermarket and a new wastewater treatment plant, some say, the center of town is shifting to the south. South is Enighed Pond.
Liburd, now in his fifth term as the territory's at-large senator, was born in Cruz Bay. He's a member of the Independent Citizens Movement.
David, in his second term, lived on St. John for 16 years before moving to St. Thomas in the 1980s and still has business interests on the small island, including the St. John Drug Center. He has alternated between being a Democrat (his current affiliation) and an independent.
According to David, his proposal is nothing new. "Other jurisdictions have done this – Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Virginia," he said. "Why can't the Virgin Islands do it?"
With his bill before the Finance Committee, "I would say within 90 days this will be a done deal," he predicted.
Liburd in his release said he hopes "that the governor will commit the necessary funds needed to begin this project, now that his Democratic colleagues have come on board in full support."

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