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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentOfficials Preparing for a Safe Carnival

Officials Preparing for a Safe Carnival

The primary safety concern is crowd control, police said, but for the first time, undercover minors will be paid to attempt to buy alcohol and tobacco. Anyone who sells to them could face steep penalties. (Photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

A safe St. Thomas Carnival is more than policing, officials told the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety Thursday. It also includes food safety, waste management, and more.

Tourism officials and representatives from VIPD, the Public Works Department, the Health Department, and other stakeholders have met eight times since mid-January to plan logistics for events, from the pageants to clean up after the last lap. The meetings included issues as varied as boat race access, toilet facilities, and j’ouvert crowd management, said Ian Turnbull, director of the Division of Festivals.

Police will set up additional, temporary cameras that work in tandem with existing surveillance infrastructure, said Mario M. Brooks, assistant commissioner of the Virgin Islands Police Department.

Calling Carnival a “crown jewel” in Virgin Islands festivities, Brooks said federal security forces would also be involved. The strategy is a blend of “boots on the ground with digital surveillance” to intervene promptly in altercations or other unlawful behavior.

“I can assure this committee that our strategies are comprehensive, innovative, and tailored to address the unique challenges of such a large-scale and high-profile event,” he said. “Reflecting on last year’s events, our proactive approach and technological advancements led to several significant successes. Notable among these were the arrests of individuals in possession of illegal firearms. These interventions, made possible by our vigilant officers and advanced surveillance, prevented potential escalations and maintained the overall peace of the festival.”

A primary concern away from criminal acts was crowd management, Brooks said. People were injured at St. Croix Festival when a loud sound, possibly a table overturning, caused the crowd to panic, officials said.

Sen. Diane Capehart said she was among the injured.

“Everyone thought it was a gunshot,” Capehart said, urging Carnival organizers to coordinate with performers and stage managers. “It was a scary, scary event. People could have died that night.”

Illegal alcohol production and distribution — such as underage drinking, moonshine, and unlabeled Jello shots — will be vigilantly monitored and dissuaded, said Horace Graham, assistant commissioner of the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department.

For the first time, the USVI government plans to pay minors to attempt to make alcohol purchases during Carnival. Anyone caught selling alcohol or tobacco to underage people could face a stiff fine and potentially lose their license to sell.

The Health Department started meeting with vendors Wednesday to ensure their temporary health permits are processed, and staff properly prepared, before Carnival starts, said Commissioner Justa Encarnacion.

Enforcement officers will be active during the festivities, Encarnacion said.

“Their primary focus will be on ensuring safe food handling, preparation, and compliance with time and temperature control measures. It is imperative to highlight that all food vendors must obtain permits from the Virgin Islands Department of Health to operate any food establishment, whether mobile, stationary, temporary, or permanent,” she said. “Through our collaborative efforts with the Division of Festivals and stringent enforcement of health and safety protocols, we aim to facilitate an enjoyable and secure experience for all participants and attendees.”

Prospective vendors were given checklists to ensure compliance.

The Public Works Department would soon start patching the Fort Christian parking lot, preparing the restrooms, and running street sweepers to remove smaller debris. The Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority was also prepping for trash disposal in the parking lot. Carnival Village, Emancipation Garden, the waterfront, and other nearby areas will be patrolled by liter crews early each morning, said Roger Merritt Jr., executive director of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority. Used cooking oil from vendors will be collected in 1,200-gallon vats, which will be replaced once full.

“On Food Fair day, there are four crews assigned: two for the morning shift and two for the afternoon shift. The morning crew is responsible for cleaning and assisting in preparation for the opening of the Food Fair and the placement of the 64-gallon carts. Two 20-yard bins are placed in an area designated by the Festival Committee. During the day, the full carts are emptied and returned to their original location by the crew members on duty throughout the day. At the end of the Food Fair, a complete and thorough cleanup is performed. The full 20-yard bin is removed early the following day. The day before the Food Fair, the used oil vendor places an igloo for used cooking oil,” Merritt said.

“Inspectors will be monitoring the cameras, and officers will be patrolling the bins sites to ensure no illegal dumping is taking place. Any booth owners caught dumping at the bin sites will be issued a $1,000 citation,” he said.

Committee Chairman Kenneth L. Gittens suggested Merritt restate fines for illegal dumping for emphasis.

“Any booth owners caught dumping at the bin sites will be issued a $1,000 citation,” Merritt repeated.

Gittens said the concentration of people at Carnival events was precarious, especially if an emergency happened. He also said parking and traffic were real concerns.

“I suspect this Carnival is going to be overly massive,” he said. “So I encourage people to carpool.”

Rueben Jennings, the assistant commissioner at the Public Works Department, said parking may be allowed in Lionel Roberts Stadium and on Main Street at certain hours.

Carnival kicks off on April 28 and will run through May 5.

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