A regular Source column, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events developing beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.
You can test the waters. You can run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. You can launch a trial balloon.
But if you are a V.I. senator, you’re more likely to propose a feasibility study.
In the three years between January 2013 and January 2016, senators proposed the government conduct formal studies on more than 20 different potential projects, covering everything from a government-owned gas station to building a bridge between St. Thomas and St. John. In most instances, it would be the taxpayer footing the bill for the researcher’s or consultant’s fee.
Some include an appropriation meant to cover the cost of the study; some don’t. Some direct a particular government entity or department to conduct the study; some don’t specify who is responsible. Some clearly grew out of public discussions of a particular issue; some seem to come out of the blue.
Few of the recent proposals have become law, and even fewer have been funded – so far.
The list does, however, give a hint about legislators’ priorities.
In the most recent years, Senator Sammuel Sanes has outstripped his colleagues in feasibility proposals. Sen. Myron Jackson is also pretty prolific.
Among proposals from Sanes were ones to:
– Authorize the Port Authority to conduct a study into the design, construction and operation of a motel or inn near the Randall Doc James Race Track on St. Croix;
– Authorize the University of the Virgin Islands in conjunction with the Government Employees Retirement System to conduct a cost and feasibility study concerning the implementation of a Defined Benefit Pension Plan to replace the current retirement system;
– Authorize the V.I. Water and Power Authority to conduct a feasibility study for the privatization of its facilities, production and services;
– Authorize a study on the creation of municipalities within the territory, the reduction of the number of senators serving and the reduction of service, from full to part-time, and the creation of a position of mayor
Sanes has introduced and re-introduced proposals for a study on the feasibility of constructing a gas station to be owned and operated by the local government and to service government vehicles.
He also proposed a study on the implementation of a composting program. That was first introduced, together with former Sen. Judi Buckley, in the 30th Legislature and then re-introduced in the current, 31st Legislature.
Jackson’s proposals include one from the 30th Legislature (in 2013) involving the creation of a “festival and cultural park” for St. Thomas. He first proposed a feasibility study, and then a “master plan.” With one or more other senators, he also introduced proposals to have the Department of Agriculture conduct a feasibility study on the production and marketability and medical value of moringa trees, hemp, bamboo and aloe vera as well as a separate study on the feasibility of establishing a facility to process local fruits.
There were several permutations of the hemp proposal, including by other senators. Eventually, there was $75,000 included in the Miscellaneous section of the 2016 budget for the local fruits study and $75,000 for the moringa, etc. study.
As of early this month, no money has actually been allotted for either study, according to Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Robles. And neither study has been conducted yet.
The idea is not dead, however. Robles said UVI’s Eastern Caribbean Center or possibly the university’s Business Center is looking for funding to conduct the studies. If that doesn’t work, he said his department might turn to the Economic Development Authority to seek funding.
Sen. Nellie Riveria-O’Reilly offered a proposal for a study of the feasibility of building a bridge between St. Thomas and St. John, an idea that died in the last Legislature. This term, she proposed a study by the Bureau of Economic Research and UVI to determine the viability of establishing a school of dentistry, a college of naturopathic medicine and a graduate program in research and development of the Virgin Islands at UVI on the St. Croix campus.
One of the more potentially expensive proposals came in the 30th Legislature from former Sen. Donald Cole. He wanted to appropriate $250,000 from the General Fund to the Public Finance Authority to conduct a due diligence study about constructing a multipurpose sports complex on St. Thomas. The proposal was not enacted.
Feasibility studies are nothing new. In the 29th Legislature, former Sen. Celestino White unsuccessfully proposed appropriating $100,000 to the Virgin Islands Thoroughbred Owners Association for a feasibility study to determine the potential and benefits of the horse racing industry and to “make recommendations.”