May 8, 2007 - The problems and concerns were the same as they had been, in some cases for years, but the mood was different Tuesday night as Gov. John deJongh Jr. addressed more than 100 Northside residents at a community meeting at Hull Bay Hideaway.
Accompanied by St. Thomas-Water Island Administrator Barbara Petersen and officials from the Waste Management Authority and the V.I. Fire Service, deJongh fielded questions and listened to complaints and concerns for nearly two hours.
He took some questions directly from the audience, but most had been written out on index cards, which he read aloud before commenting. Each card included the name of the questioner.
Then, after every issue raised had been directly addressed, the governor spent another half hour mingling with the residents. He was the last person to leave at nearly 8:30 p.m.
Many commented that most government leaders only showed up before election time.
From the start of the meeting, deJongh was clear that he might not be able to immediately solve all of the problems. "Some of the answers I have. Some I don't," he said.
But by the end of the evening, deJongh had offered specific answers or direction on everything from the problem of debris on "Agriculture Hill" to fixing the 10-year-old problem of the collapsed roadway across from the trash bins on Crown Mountain Road or fixing the potholes between Drake's Seat and the intersection of Hull Bay Road and Estate Elizabeth Road.
"I don't want to tell you that I live on that road," he quipped. "Yes, it will be fixed."
In many other instances he also said, "Yes," when asked if he could remedy something.
One resident said that money to fix the dangerous Spring Road, which is falling apart, had been twice appropriated. She said Wynstan Benjamin of Public Works had told her recently that the document necessary to get the job done was finally on deJongh's desk for signature.
"If it's come to my office," deJongh said, "consider it signed."
DeJongh also promised laws would be enforced in many areas, including noise pollution from loud mufflers and terms of leases for the Dorothea farmers.
He said he had already assigned someone to specifically handle the leases. Many in the area feel the farmers are not complying with the terms of their leases and that runoff from the livestock areas is polluting Hull Bay.
The hill, which runs from Bonne Resolution and Dorothea Bay to Crown Mountain Road, is crammed with pigs, goats and cattle. The odor created by the livestock is impossible to ignore. Abandoned cars litter the hillsides.
Resident Valencia Berry also noted that one chicken farmer walked off — abandoning his chickens, which are now running wild throughout the neighborhood from Dorothea to Hull Bay. She said she has called several agencies to pick up the chickens, but to no avail.
DeJongh said of the noise pollution law, "We're going to enforce it now." He said he had spoken with Police Chief Milton Petersen directing him to have the officers begin to stop violators.
"It's the small things … the quality of life things that are important," he said.
Safety, which has long been a major issue for Northsiders, was also on the agenda.
Resident Susan McFarland told a harrowing story about being home alone in the daytime with her 3-year-old son and calling 911 for help when she thought her home was about to be robbed, only to be told an officer could not be dispatched "until something happened."
DeJongh replied that the 911 operators were soon going to be getting training, which was expected to bring the standards up to the national level.
"When you call 911," he said, "you should get a better response."
Fire Service's Daryl George had good news about the Dorothea Fire Station, another problem that has raised the ire of residents over the years, as the station has opened and then closed several times.
"It's been open since Dec. 1, 2005," George reported. The audience laughed when George, who has long supported the residents' cries for full-time fire protection, added, "I brought the log book with me in case anyone wants to see it."
In response to the accusation that emergency personnel are not familiar with the areas they serve, George said that most of the firefighters working at Dorothea these days live in the neighborhood.
Furthermore, George said, plans are in the works to rebuild the current firehouse, adding a second floor and to construct a building within the next year that will house a Police substation.
On the back burner, however, are the bathroom and sidewalks for the Dorothea Tot Lot.
DeJongh said, "Given the financial challenges" the government is facing, the $110,00 that has been appropriated wouldn't be available this year.
But, he said, the project was something he wanted to complete and that it would be handed over to Housing, Parks and Recreation as a priority.
Going a bit farther afield, deJongh answered questions about special education, libraries and swim buoys at Magens Bay. He made good use of his staff members, handing off administrative issues to Petersen, garbage issues to WMA's Sonya Nelthropp and more than one safety issue to George.
He said that within the week Petersen would be traveling throughout Northside neighborhoods with Public Works Commissioner Daryl Smalls and members of the community to locate specific areas where lack of retaining walls was causing large rocks and dangerous debris to clog guts and spread across roadways. Petersen will also be identifying areas where abandoned cars and trash are collecting.
DeJongh said he was serious about taking action on the problems. "I don't want to come back six months from now to address them again." But he did promise to return in September with a spreadsheet listing every concern voiced Tuesday night along with what had been done about each one.
As residents milled about after the meeting, taking turns talking to the governor, several expressed hope and even faith that their problems were going to be addressed.
"It's a great time to be on St. Thomas," Northside resident Paul Kalloo Jr. said.
The meeting was called for by the Northside Civic Organization. Anyone interested in becoming a member can call 998-1916.
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