Aug. 9, 2004 – About 60 residents of Estate Mon Bijou and surrounding areas came out to a meeting on Monday night with hope that there will soon be an end to the flooding problems that have plagued them for almost 20 years.
But some were so disenchanted from past promises not kept that they held little hope the new flood-control project would be the panacea they are hoping for.
On Tuesday at 10 a.m. a groundbreaking ceremony for the project will be held at Route 732 on Windsor Road adjacent to Estate Frangipani residential area in Mon Bijou.
On Monday, representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Public Works Department and the contractor, Virgin Islands Paving Inc., explained the scope of the project to the beleaguered homeowners.
The plans call for the construction of a 6,500-foot channel that will divert storm water runoff from Blue Mountain around the affected communities and eventually drain into Salt River. Along the route of the channel, a levee and 38 "gabions" wire cages filled with stones — will be constructed. A temporary bypass road will be constructed on Highway 73 to maintain local traffic.
The channel will be fenced, in some sections passing through farmland with four-strand barbed wire.
Bids received for the project were opened on June 10, and the contract was awarded on July 8. Construction is expected to take 14 months, with completion targeted for mid-October 2005 at a cost of $7.4 million.
A separate, all federally funded Public Works project calls for the construction of two new bridges at Glynn Road and Highway 73 to replace the current low-water crossing.
Following the project presentation by Michael Schultz, Army Corps of Engineers project manager, and Aloy Nielsen, Public Works project director, members of the community got their say.
"Peoples' lives are at stake," one Mon Bijou resident said. He said he has seen stones up to 15 pounds moved by water and that the proposed gabions will not work in the area. "The channel should be paved," he said.
Another point of contention was the announcement that the project will begin on the Glynn side of the proposed channel. Homeowners wanted to know why the construction is not beginning in the Mon Bijou area. "The problem is in the west side," one said. "The contractor should change."
David Baird, project manager for V.I. Paving, explained why that is not possible. "If we started at the top, we would compromise the project," he said. "When the rain comes down, it will pond in the unfinished channel and cause delays." He continued: "By starting at the Glynn end of the channel, we will be creating a finished project as we go."
Louise Hansen expressed homeowners' frustration and stress. "I've lived in Mon Bijou since 1973," she said. "When rain comes, we can't sleep. Some people have died because of the stress, and I hope something can be done now."
Nielsen acknowledged the residents' frustration and told them the project will alleviate their problems. "Relief is here now," he said. "We are not making empty promises."
Delegate Donna M. Christensen and Sen. Luther Renee were present at the meeting Both wanted to know what can be done now to mitigate flooding this hurricane season. "Is there anything that can be put in place now to prevent water damaging homes?" Christensen asked.
Richard Hunter, attorney for the Mon Bijou homeowners, urged Public Works to inspect and clean the guts in the area before the heavy rains come.
"That is one mitigation issue we can keep on top of," Nielsen replied. "The problem will remain in the capacity — the amount of water the guts can hold."
However, residents said maintenance by Public Works is lacking, and they have gotten together to clean out several guts in the area on their own, disposing of old mattresses and other debris that had washed down to their neighborhood.
Hunter first sued the government in 1984 on behalf of 15 homeowners who claimed that poor-quality work on the part of Public Works had allowed flood waters to enter their properties, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Sewage routinely flowed into cisterns and homes, they complained, and heavy rains compounded the mess. (See "After 20 Years, Government Coughs Up Money".)
On Monday, Hunter was guardedly optimistic following the two-hour meeting. "People are more informed," he said. "We will just have to wait and see how well the channel handles the flow off Blue Mountain."
Christensen commended Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards for taking a stand for the people of Mon Bijou and said the government needs to monitor the situation. "The government needs to clean every gut, and the people deserve to have an second opinion from an independent engineer for reassurance," she said.
Richards announced last November that he had brought the U.S. Army Corps and the Public Works Department together to deal with the Mon Bijou situation and that money for the project had come from emergency funds. In May, Christensen announced that the Army Corps would within six weeks award a contract for the completion of the flood-control project. (See "Contract Coming for Mon Bijou Flood Control Project".)
Residents who have other questions regarding the project can contact Nielsen by calling 773-1290 or write to Schultz at 701 San Marco Blvd., Jacksonville FL 32207 or call him at (904) 232-1237.
On-site representatives are Alfonso O'Neill, project engineer, who can be reached at (787) 405-5982, and Robert Schierloh of V.I. Paving Inc., whose number is 778-5220.
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