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Gifft Hill School Enhances Aquaponics Education with $25,000 Grant from Island Green Living

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ST. JOHN — Gifft Hill School has announced a significant advancement in its aquaponics and hydroponics education program, thanks to a generous $25,000 grant from Island Green Living. This donation marks a continuation of Island Green’s commitment to the program, following its initial provision of the aquaponics system in December 2020 and a previous $25,000 contribution in 2022.

Island Green’s Board of Directors President, Harith Wickrema, underscored the importance of this initiative in addressing the island’s food security challenges. He highlighted the potential of Gifft Hill School’s (GHS) system to serve as a benchmark for similar programs throughout the territory, a concept currently in discussion with the Department of Education.

The aquaponics system at GHS is a cornerstone of the school’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) curriculum for grades 6-12. It offers hands-on learning opportunities, where students engage in maintaining the system. They care for tilapia, whose waste provides nutrients for the herbs and greens grown in this innovative soilless setup.

GHS emphasizes the comprehensive nature of student involvement, which includes monitoring water quality and harvesting both the plants and tilapia. The produce and fish harvested are incorporated into culinary classes, providing a tangible experience of sustainability in action.

GHS Head of School Liz Kinsella noted the aquaponics system’s role in reinforcing academic concepts across various disciplines. “The integration of the aquaponics and EARTH programs has notably enhanced our students’ knowledge and critical thinking abilities,” she said.

Looking ahead, GHS plans to expand its efforts by revitalizing micro-business models that enable students to sell produce to local restaurants. Furthermore, Ms. Kinsella announced the school’s intention to share its food security curriculum framework with other schools in the territory, fostering a community-wide approach to experiential learning and environmental stewardship. “We’re poised to lead in green education and environmental responsibility,” she added.

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USVI Community Pulse

Property Managers Face New Licensing Rules in Virgin Islands Real Estate Overhaul

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Significant changes are on the horizon for the Virgin Islands’ real estate industry, which has remained largely untouched since 1968. Senator Novelle Francis announced on Monday his intention to modernize the sector with the introduction of Bill 35-0193, aimed at closing legislative gaps that have allowed for financial exploitation to the detriment of the local community.

Senator Francis noted that the outdated laws have led to the industry being perceived as a “wild wild west where anything goes.” The proposed bill seeks to enhance consumer protection through new definitions, licensing requirements, continuing education mandates, and disclosure obligations, thereby bolstering the regulatory role of the Real Estate Commission.

A key feature of Bill 35-0193 is the new requirement for property managers to obtain a property management license. Laurent Alfred, chair of the Virgin Islands Real Estate Commission and a drafter of the bill, emphasized that property managers have long operated without adequate oversight, causing public confusion. Developing the new property manager exam is projected to cost around $92,000.

The legislation also lowers the minimum age for entering the industry from 21 to 18, encouraging youth participation as apprentices. The Department of Labour will support training these apprentices.

The bill introduces several licensing categories: Short Term Rental Licenses for owners of short-term rentals like Airbnbs, and an Apartment House License for owners of more than four long-term rental properties on the same land. Notably, property owners renting up to four long-term units will not require a license.

To ensure practitioners are familiar with the local community, a 90-day residency requirement for operating in the Virgin Islands’ real estate market is also included.

Industry leaders have praised the proposed changes. Dan Savaro, president of the Territorial Association of Realtors, and Ava Gail Bourdon, president and Principal Broker at RE/MAX St. Croix, both commended the bill for providing a solid regulatory framework for future generations. B.J. Harris, vice chair of the V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Real Estate Commission, highlighted the importance of understanding fiduciary duties and accounting practices for property managers.

Despite general support, Carl Gotts, vice president of Vacation St. Croix, voiced opposition, particularly regarding association with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which recently settled a lawsuit for $418 million over anti-competitive practices. Gotts also raised concerns about the new license’s potential impact on collecting the 12.5% Virgin Islands hotel tax, though Alfred clarified that tax collection would remain unaffected by the regulation changes.

Senator Marise James suggested refining the bill’s language, while Senator Carla Joseph sought clarity on the implementation timelines for the new rules and educational requirements. Horace Graham, assistant commissioner of the DLCA, proposed a grace period for the educational component, estimating a reasonable timeframe of 90 to 180 days for compliance once the program is established.

Bill 35-0193 will next be reviewed by the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, alongside a companion bill to establish a property manager position on the Real Estate Commission.

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St. Croix Road Closure and Water Outage Scheduled for May 22

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ST. CROIX — The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has announced a temporary road closure and water service interruption on St. Croix for Wednesday, May 22, due to critical maintenance work.

These disruptions are part of the ongoing Hannah’s Rest Waterline Rehabilitation project. The affected area will involve a two-lane closure on Queen Mary Highway, west of the Emancipation Drive intersection, from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Motorists are advised to use alternative routes to avoid delays. Traffic control measures, including flaggers, will be in place to assist with navigation.

Additionally, residents in the Smithfield, White Lady, White Bay, Stony Ground, Two Brothers, Mars Hill, and Wheel of Fortune areas will experience a water service interruption from approximately 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. WAPA has provided a detailed map indicating the impacted areas and suggested detours.

This temporary inconvenience is necessary to facilitate a tie-in operation by WAPA’s Water System Maintenance crews and their contractor, Marco St. Croix. WAPA appreciates the community’s patience and understanding during this period of essential maintenance aimed at improving the local water infrastructure.

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Urgent Search Underway for Missing St. Croix Man Known as “Smiley”

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The Virgin Islands Police Department’s Forensic/Identification Section of the Criminal Investigation Bureau has issued a critical missing person alert for Raymond Ward, 62, affectionately known as “Smiley.” Ward, originally from St. Kitts, was last seen by a family member on April 29, 2024, and has not been seen since.

Ward is described as a Black male with a slim build, standing 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 147 pounds. He has distinctive brown and gray dreadlocks and a light complexion. When last seen, he was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans. The details of his shoes are unknown.

He is known to frequent areas around Sion Farm, Sion Hill, Sion Farm Shop, and H&H Tire & Battery, as well as the Five Corners region.

Authorities urge anyone with information about Ward’s whereabouts to contact Officer T. Cox at the Wilbur Francis Command Police Station at 340-778-2211 or Officer M. Joseph at the Ancilmo Marshall Command Police Station at 340-773-2530. Information can also be provided to the 911 Emergency Call Center at 340-772-9111 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

The VIPD appeals to the community for assistance in ensuring Mr. Ward’s safe return to his family.

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