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Public Safety Meeting Addresses Police Substation, Laundry List of Other Needs

March 5, 2007 — Plans are moving forward on the proposed Coral Bay Police substation, an official said Monday.
The update came at a meeting of the Senate Public Safety, Homeland Security and Judiciary Committee at the Legislature building on St. John. The meeting wrapped up a round of similar events held recently on St. Thomas and St. Croix to hear about the state of the territory's emergency-response departments and organizations.
The lease for the planned Coral Bay police station is sitting somewhere between the local Justice Department and Government House, said Nadia Harrigan, the Police Department's deputy commissioner for support systems.
The department is proceeding with the environmental-assessment report needed to apply for the Coastal Zone Management permit, which is required because the planned police station sits near the water, she said.
Police Commissioner-designee James McCall said that there currently is no one in the St. John deputy chief's job, formerly held by Angelo Hill. After evaluating the people available for the job, McCall said, he will decide whether he will appoint someone who lives on St. John or someone who would commute from St. Thomas.
"That's part of the reorganization," McCall said.
St. John will get one of the three mobile police stations on order, with St. Thomas and St. Croix also getting one each, he said. He hasn't determined where St. John's mobile station will go, but its location will be based on need. Plans are also in the works to install a communications tower at Bordeaux to improve on the dead-spot situation that occurs in several places around St. John, McCall said.
Milton Petersen Sr., acting police chief for the St. Thomas-St. John District, said that St. John has one investigator on from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and another on from 4 p.m. to midnight. Both commute from St. Thomas, he said.
"What happens between midnight and 8 a.m.?" asked Sen. Carmen Wesselhoft, who chaired the meeting.
Patrol officers handle investigations during those hours, but an investigator can come over from St. Thomas if needed, Petersen said.
In murder cases, a homicide investigator must come from St. Thomas, he said.
The owners of Meada's Plaza have received threats from someone coming to the site and threatening to burn the building down once repairs are complete, Wesselhoft said. Meada's Plaza went up in flames in September 2005 during the furor that followed Esther Frett's claim that she was raped. Frett and Bob Sells, who both had stores in the building, were involved in a feud that resulted in Sells going to jail.
Alvis Christian, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency's deputy director on St. John, said that if the island was hit with a tsunami, Cruz Bay and Coral Bay would be under water.
"We'd lose 90 percent of the government agencies and supermarkets and gas stations," Christian said.
VITEMA now will be able to use the Gifft Hill School as a shelter, he said. The school sits high up on Gifft Hill Road and well out of harm's way if water levels rise.
Christian told the senators that plans are in the works to install a siren warning system to alert residents in case of a disaster. St. John had one, but it hasn't worked in many years, he said.
VITEMA Director Renaldo Rivera said the agency's St. John facility is inadequate. He suggested that an adjacent government-owned building be renovated to provide adequate space.
In terms of personnel, VITEMA plans to add one additional staff member to augment the two now working on St. John, Rivera said.
St. John needs another road from Coral Bay to Cruz Bay because mud and rock slides can close the road, Christian said.
"It could be hours before the traffic can flow," he said, noting that one-third of the island's population lives in the Coral Bay area.
Christian also said that the flooding in front of the island's sewage-treatment plant at Enighed Pond needs to be addressed. In a severe flood, he said, sewage from the treatment plant could contaminate the water.
Winifred Powell, the Fire Service's acting deputy chief for St. John, said that Cruz Bay's traffic poses problems for the department because the station is located on the exit route from Enighed Pond Marine Terminal.
"We could be deadlocked at any time," she said, indicating the problem is particularly acute from 7 to 9 a.m. and 2:30 to 4 p.m.
The department also has a water-supply problem, Powell said. The station in Coral Bay faces challenges because there is no potable water supply to that end of the island, she said.
"It takes 28 minutes for a truck with water to get from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay," Powell said.
The department also needs to address its lack of fuel storage, because when the Texaco gas station closed briefly last year, the department had to depend on the Public Works Department and VITEMA for supplies.
Additionally, Powell said, only eight out of the 10 water hydrants in the Cruz Bay area work. The department also needs a larger firefighting vessel for better response to marine fires. The department's current 22-foot Boston Whaler only has room for two people and a rescued passenger, she said.
The vice president of the volunteer St. John Rescue group, Alfredo Alejo, said members need a headquarters.
In response, Sen. Carlton Dowe said he saw no need for departments and organizations to each have their own facility. He said that agencies should share facilities, because when emergencies occur, multiple agencies respond.
Attorney General-designee Vincent Frazer said it was going to take "tens of millions of dollars" to fix the problems in the Corrections Bureau.
At the end of the meeting, Wesselhoft noted that two people invited failed to attend: Catherine Taylor, who heads up St. John's Emergency Medical Services, and V.I. Port Authority Director Darlin Brin.
In addition to Wesselhoft and Dowe, Sens. Liston Davis, Norman Jn Baptiste and Celestino White attended the meeting. Sens. Ronald Russell and Alvin Williams were absent.
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