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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, July 19, 2024


The Senate Planning and Environmental Resources Committee approved unanimously two bills, tabled another and approved a Coastal Zone Management permit Monday in a meeting rescheduled from last month, when it was postponed for lack of a quorum.
One bill approved would allow Planning and Natural Resources Department enforcement officers to issue "conservation tickets," similar to traffic tickets, to violators of the law. As it now stands, the officers have their hands tied as the court processing of alleged violators can take up to a year, according to officer Robert Danet, who testified in support of the measure. Several other DPNR officers were in the Senate chamber to listen to discussion of the bill.
Danet told the lawmakers, "We are the laughing stock of the user groups — the fishermen, hunters and boaters — because they know we can't be effective in carrying out the law." He said 15 boats in Long Bay are in violation of the law. "They know they get a pink slip, and it gets nowhere," he said. "It's very frustrating and embarrassing."
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett said his officers make less money than police in a job that "is just as dangerous." He testified that encounting illegal aliens on the open sea is one troublesome situation his officers face.
He and Danet pleaded with the senators to give them "the tools to do the job." Danet said the issue has come before the Senate repeatedly since 1986, with approval yet to come. The bill would allow officers to issue the tickets to anyone found in violation of local fish, game and conservation laws. As with parking citations, those ticketed could pay their fines at Territorial Court. The present procedure requires court appearances and a hearing in each case, taking the officers away from their regular enforcement duties.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole successfully offered an amendment to enforce boating registration fines and to include community service as a penalty for violators.
The other bill passed was one proposed by Sen. Roosevelt David to create a library in the Tutu area of St. Thomas. His colleagues questioned the need to mandate a library when plans for one have been in the works for years — and wondered where the funds to build it would be found.
David said he had a long list of federal funds into which the territory could tap.
Claudette Lewis, Planning and Natural Resources assistant commissioner, testified on a different approach to getting a library. She said that she had spoken to William Mahaffey, one of the Tutu Park Mall developers, Monday morning about the construction of a library and said he had reiterated to her his commitment to build the facility.
A condition of the mall's initial Industrial Development Commission tax benefits was that it build a library and a museum to house the historical artifacts unearthed at the site, committee chair Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg reminded his colleagues. "We desperately need this library," he said, "and a facility that will accommodate historical archives."
Voting for both bills were Sens. Donastorg, Cole, George Goodwin and Almando "Rocky" Liburd. Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, also a committee member, was absent.
Both bills now go to the Rules Committee; if approved by Rules, they would go to the full Senate.
The bill that was tabled indefinitely was a proposal by David to establish financial incentives for businesses to comply with environmental laws under DPNR direction.
One objection was that it didn't include funding sources. However, David said federal funding was available for the project.
Plaskett, again testifying, said, "If there's a grant we have not been privy to, I would use it to enforce pollution laws and get more staffing and equipment." He added, "More money would be nice, especially when we are laying off people."
He also said that rewarding businesses financially for following the law would be sending the wrong message. "Environmental laws should be obeyed because you're a human being and live in the world," he said. Paying someone "for following the law," he said, "would be like paying a criminal not to commit a crime."
The CZM permit approved is to allow the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Marriott International Hotel Services to extend a water intake pipe 6 inches in diameter out 130 feet into the sea. The pipe would replace the rubber hose now used to take water to the resort's desalination plant.
The permit provides for the resort to pay the government a fee of $2,700 for the first year, with annual adjustments for inflation. The permit, approved earlier by Plaskett and CZM, required ratification by the committee and will now go to the governor.
Donastorg voiced approval for permit, but questioned the manner in which CZM determines permit fees. CZM director Janice Hodge said the fees are based on the Consumer Price Index. Cole wanted reassurance that the water would not be sold retail. Ritz-Carlton attorney Henry Feuerzeig assured him it would not and noted that it is common practice for businesses to use the CPI as an indicator of inflation.

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