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HomeNewsLocal newsWhat Happened Here in 2023: A New Year’s Retrospective Part: 1

What Happened Here in 2023: A New Year’s Retrospective Part: 1

Unlike in recent years, no single event dominated the year 2023 in the Virgin Islands. There was no pair of devastating hurricanes as in 2017; there was no epidemic that changed every aspect of daily life in 2020 and 2021. There was not a dramatic turn-around in the economy as disaster recovery funds and COVID relief grants simultaneously swirled into the territory in 2022, with a dizzying show of elusive prosperity.

Rather, 2023 was a sort of mixed bag of normalcy. That is not to say there was no drama the past 12 months.

Political scandal reached new heights as court cases involving disgraced financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein hung V.I. laundry out to dry in media outlets across the country. Meanwhile, next door, reports of former British Virgin Islands officials facing drug and corruption charges regaled readers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The state of emergency for COVID-19 finally ended, but a stubborn, widespread fire at the Bovoni landfill and the discovery of lead and copper in part of St. Croix’s potable water supply triggered two more emergency declarations.

Environmental concerns continued to roil the surface of V.I. life. Concerted efforts by government, non-profits, and community volunteers contained the rapid spread of stony coral tissue loss disease with the painstaking application of the antibiotic amoxicillin. There was little time for congratulations, however,  before historically warm ocean temperatures triggered coral bleaching that threatened the territory’s reef systems anew.

Some unidentified parasites attacked sea urchins. Researchers reported global warming has caused a gender imbalance in sea turtle hatching, which they fear could eventually limit reproduction of the species. The seasonal scourge of both Saharan dust and sargassum seaweed continues, although their 2023 incursions were relatively mild.

As the environmental detriment of global warming and human overdevelopment became more and more apparent, so did efforts to mitigate it. The V.I. government set aside more green space and launched a massive effort to protect and restore wetlands.

On the economic front, tourism continued its recovery from the hurricanes and the COVID shutdown. And federal grants churned the construction industry.

In 2023, the community laid to rest many of its longtime heroes and best-known friends, including former senators, a former governor and a former judge. It also honored rising stars in various areas, including sports and music.

Following is a chronological summary of some of the year’s news highlights:

January

In the wake of her abrupt and unexplained firing in the closing days of 2022, former Attorney General Denise George issues a written statement linking the action to a disagreement between her and Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. over her filing a lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase alleging that the banking behemoth turned a blind eye to the sex trafficking dealings of the late Jeffrey Epstein, thus enabling his illegal activity. Epstein had moved to the Virgin Islands many years earlier, bought and developed a private enclave on Little St. James, a cay off of St. Thomas, and set up businesses taking advantage of tax incentives available through the territory’s Economic Development Commission.

Mourners attend the funeral of former Gov. Roy Lester Schneider, namesake of the St. Thomas hospital, former health commissioner and longtime physician, who died in late 2022 at the age of 83.

The territory witnesses its first murder of the year on Jan. 15. Marcos Antonio Benjamin Guerrero is shot near Market Square on St. Thomas and dies soon after at the hospital. An arrest is made the next day, and St. Thomas Police Chief Steven Philips says, “With the trust of our community more cases can be solved in a timely manner.” At the end of the year, there had been 37 homicides in the territory – 20 on St. Thomas and 17 on St. Croix. The number was similar to the previous year, when there were 35 homicides – 10 on St. Thomas and 25 on St. Croix. Access the Source list of homicides here.

Albert Bryan Jr. and Tregenza Roach are sworn into their second four-year terms as governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. In their remarks, they emphasize the need for the community to unite.

Stacey Plaskett is sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives for her fifth consecutive two-year term, representing the Virgin Islands as its delegate to Congress.

St. Thomas businessman and scion of the Lockhart family, Leo (Leopold) Barbel, dies at age 90.

The governor signs the Cannabis Use Act, legalizing the use of marijuana by adults for medicinal, sacramental, and recreational purposes and expunges old convictions for simple possession of less than two ounces.

The Virgin Islands rejoins the Caribbean Tourism Organization, which it had left in 2016. In heralding the action, Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte says there is a need for more direct interisland travel and for more air lift to the region.

The Economic Development Authority announces “V.I. Slice,” a local program funded by a $20 million federal American Rescue Plan Act grant and aimed at helping middle-income families buy or rehab a home. Eligible persons can borrow up $200,000 with the loan turning into a gift if they live in the home for at least ten years.

In his State of the Territory address, Bryan sounds an optimistic note, touting relative economic prosperity, increased tourist arrivals, major infrastructure investment, reduced crime and a promise to stabilize and diversify the territory’s energy source, the Water and Power Authority.

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. delivers an optimistic 2023 State of the Territory Address. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

February

The Coastal Zone Management division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources begins work to preserve and protect V.I. wetlands and to mitigate damage from coastal hazards such as storm surge. The effort is funded by a federal, three-year grant program under NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) of up to $80,000 per year.

Judge Raymond L. Finch dies at age 82 and is mourned by the community. A native Crucian, Finch served much of his life on the Bench, first with the Superior Court (previously “Territorial” Court) and then in District Court. The Superior Court in Frederiksted was renamed in his honor in 2017.

Famed St. Thomas boxer John A. Jackson is sentenced to serve 25 years as a sex predator. He had been arrested in 2019 and charged with luring several high school girls, at least one as young as 14, into sexual assignations.

Cousins Cori Alexander and Kyle Francis from St. Thomas hit it big as musical engineers when two of their projects won Grammy awards: “Fear Is Not My Future” for Best Song and “Kingdom Book One” for Best Gospel Album.

Musician and audio engineer Cori Alexander is working hard and enjoying national success (Photo courtesy of Cori Alexander and Kyle Francis)
Vocalist, musician, and audio engineer Kyle Francis is at work in the studio. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Francis and Cori Alexander)

After 12 years in the service, Kwesi Howard was sworn in as acting U.S. Marshall for the Virgin Islands, the first native son to hold the position.

V.I. Delegate Stacey Plaskett, a Democrat, was appointed to the House Intelligence Committee. She was also appointed to the Republican-led Select Subcommittee on Weaponization, a post seen as a counterpoint to signals from committee chair Rep. Jim Jordan to investigate the Democratic administration.

March

With speeches, dancers, popsicles and scads of children, the St. John community dedicates its Cruz Bay playground, finally reopening after the destruction of Hurricane Irma in 2017. The celebration marked the completion of Phase I of a near-million-dollar project, largely funded by private donations.

The Dynamic Dancers perform at the celebration of the newly renovated Cruz Bay playground. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Government House announces the purchase of 69 acres in Estate Hesselberg at Frederiksted for $1.2 million, adding it to the Territorial Park System which was created in 2022. The property includes wetlands and 2,000 feet of beachfront.

Amid considerable fanfare, the governor leads a delegation of government officials and St. Croix business people to New York for talks at the NY Stock Exchange and the NY Chamber of Commerce about ways to partner on various ventures in shipping, banking and international trade.

Abdel Bazzar, a fifth-grade student at Ricardo Richards Elementary School, wins the 2023 Territorial Spelling Bee, clinching the contest with the word “realm.”

The Magens Bay Authority board fires Hubert Brumant, who had served as general manager of the popular entity since 2007. In explanation for the action, board chair Barbara Peterson said, “The Board has decided to go in a different direction” and promote the beach more aggressively.

The WAPA governing board approves agreements for three solar and two wind alternative power projects.

Former senator, five-term trustee for the University of the Virgin Islands, and longtime executive and spokesman for the Hess Oil refinery operation on St. Croix, Alex Moorhead, dies at age 77.

Residents who looked up at the right moment caught a glimpse of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, as its plasma tail could be seen streaking across the sky from as far away as the Charlotte Amalie Harbor.

Launched from Florida, a SpaceX rocket makes a brief but spectacular appearance over Charlotte Amalie Harbor. (Photo by Kirk McGeorge)
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