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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 21, 2024


May 21, 2002 – Helen Gjessing, who for decades has served as the biggest thorn in the side of the Coastal Zone Management Commission, walked off with its 2002 Coastal Zone Organization of the Year Award at last week's Non-Point Source Pollution Conference on St. John.
"I was surprised," Gjessing said later in her typically understated way. Then, her comeback: "What, are they trying to bribe me?"
Although Gjessing was the recipient of the award, it was for work done with the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands, in recent years as chair of its Planning and Environmental Quality Committee. She was one of four people who received awards at the conference. Also recognized were fisheries industry leader Harry Clinton, Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and University of the Virgin Islands student Devon Tyson.
According to information provided by the Planning and Natural Resources Department, Gjessing was recognized for "outstanding and dedicated service in protecting, enhancing and preserving the coastal resources." CZM's director, Janice Hodge, did not return telephone calls requesting comment.
The words of Gjessing's League colleagues who nominated her for the award sum up her long service to the environment. The League and Gjessing have long been at the forefront of ensuring that CZM makes developers adhere to the rules. "For examples of Mrs. Gjessing's work, please see almost every CZM file for her testimony and post-hearing questions," wrote League members Colette C. Monroe and Erva Denham.
Now retired from her position as a professor of microbiology at the University of the Virgin Islands, Gjessing "led the charge to promote public participation, encouraging all Virgin Islanders regardless of their previous knowledge of development to attend public hearings, become familiar with the CZM process and review all information legally available to the general public to ensure a balance between development and preservation." Denham and Monroe wrote.
National Wildlife, the magazine of the National Wildlife Federation, profiled Gjessing in its February/March 2001 issue. The article was reprinted in the Beloit College Magazine under the headline "Virgin Islands Conservationist Seeks Balance" because Gjessing is an alumna of Beloit.
Clinton received the 2002 Person of the Year award for his service in protecting, enhancing and preserving the coastal resources. Clinton, a St. Thomas resideint, could not be reached for comment. His nomination notes that he has a long history of working in the fisheries industry. As chair of the St. Thomas/St. John Fisheries Advisory Committee since 1996, he has led the committee in addressing such issues as establishing the Hind Bank marine conservation district, responding to designation of the Coral Reef National Monument on St. John, and considering a conch and whelk moratorium for St. Thomas and St. John. Additionally, he has dealt with issues such as limited entry to commercial and recreational fishing and revision of licensing and fee structures for recreational and commercial fishermen.
BCB Middle School received the 2002 Coastal School of the Year award for "rising above the rest in promoting leadership and commitment to the preservation of the marine and coastal environment." In fact, BCB students got their pictures published in the Ocean Conservancy's Coastal Connection magazine for their efforts in cleaning up Lindqvist Beach during the most recent Coast Weeks observance.
Tyson was honored as the 2002 Coastal Zone Student of the Year. A University of the Virgin Islands student, he works as a student research assistant at the university's Center for Marine and Environmental Science.

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