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DPNR Invites Public to Final Round of Land and Water Use Plan Town Meetings

DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol, pictured during a Senate hearing, said Land and Water Use planners have sought public engagement throughout the development process. (File photo courtesy V.I. Legislature)

Close to a year and a half since efforts began, officials at Planning and Natural Resources say they are close to completing a land and water use plan for the Virgin Islands. But before submitting the final draft to the approval process, DPNR officials are inviting the public to a round of public meetings.

Talk about creating a plan to properly manage land and water use has been going on in the territory since the late 1980s, but the effort to create a comprehensive plan had not moved much towards action.

The upcoming meetings are being billed as the last invitation for public review and public comment. A statement released last week said officials hope to present a broad overview along with goals and policy directions. If approved and adopted, planners say they hope to deliver a “to-do” list for the government, stakeholders, and the community. “This is a framework, this is a plan that will guide development for the future,” said DPNR Public Information Officer Jamal Neilsen.

Soliciting public input as part of plan development has been an active element since the first round of meetings. Close to 600 residents participated in five town hall meetings held in early March 2023.

From those meetings, officials at DPNR were able to recruit about 90 volunteers to work with consultants putting the plan together. The consultants did not live in the Virgin Islands, said DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol, so having the input of island residents helped them tailor a plan specific to the Virgin Islands.

“They were still working (through) the first week in June,” the commissioner said, adding that those volunteers may be pressed into service again after this final round of land plan meetings.

“If there is a lot of public comment that comes in, we may have the planning groups meet again to help us sort things out; if there is not a lot of comment, then basically we’re good to go,” Oriol said.

Those who wish to seize the opportunity can join the land plan town meetings set for June 24 at the Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John, June 25 at Victor’s Hideout on St. Thomas, and June 27 at the University of the Virgin Islands Great Hall on St. Croix.

Each meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Presenters plan to introduce four topics: Making Better Land Use Decisions; Protecting Our Natural Resources; Preparing for a Sustainable Future, and Living and Thriving Together.

From there, officials say they hope to promote one last round of public strategy sessions. “Everyone is encouraged to provide more detailed feedback through the online survey at www.PlanUSVI.com, which will remain open through July 26, 2024,” Nielsen said.

Once the hearings conclude and the comments are evaluated, Oriol said the plan will go to the Legislature for passage. If lawmakers approve, the plan can then be signed into law.

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