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Historic Shipwreck to Be Relocated for Harbor Expansion in St. Thomas

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ERIK MILES captures the essence of history with his photo of a steam-driven windlass and warping barrels from an 1801 British Navy encounter, nestled near Prince Frederik’s Battery on Hassel Island, in the heart of St. Thomas, USVI Harbor.

A pivotal decision emerged from the V.I. Port Authority Governing Board’s recent meeting, as Engineering Director Preston Beyer presented a proposal to allocate nearly $150,000 for the preservation of a mid-19th century shipwreck. This shipwreck, caught in the planned path of the St. Thomas Harbor dredging project, has been recognized as a significant cultural artifact by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Office.

Beyer emphasized the importance of safeguarding such cultural treasures to ensure the support of the Army Corps of Engineers for the dredging initiative. Following thorough consultations with both local and federal entities, the decision was made to reposition the shipwreck to a nearby location, safely away from the dredging activities, without diminishing its historical value.

The financial aspect of this undertaking was addressed when VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe revealed a recent conversation with Governor Albert Bryan Jr., who assured that the necessary funds, amounting to no more than $149,509, would be secured. While the specifics of the funding sources were reserved for a private executive session, this dialogue underscores the commitment to both heritage preservation and infrastructural development.

Dowe articulated a clear stance to the board: the dredging project, essential for enhancing the harbor’s capacity to welcome larger vessels and boost the local cruise industry, hinges on the successful relocation of the shipwreck. This operation reflects a balanced approach to progress, ensuring that the expansion efforts do not come at the expense of the island’s rich historical legacy.

In a significant move last November, legislators earmarked $17 million for the harbor dredging, aimed at augmenting Charlotte Amalie’s ability to accommodate the next generation of cruise ships. This project stands as a testament to the island’s dedication to economic growth while preserving its cultural heritage, a principle strongly supported by Governor Bryan’s administration.

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Development

Blackbeard’s Castle Renovation: Owner’s Admission Highlights Oversight Challenges in USVI

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In a revealing exchange during the latest St. Thomas/St. John Historical Preservation Committee meeting, frustrations bubbled to the surface over the cavalier attitude exhibited by the team renovating Blackbeard’s Castle, a landmark fraught with historical significance. Property owner Steve Sigler was in the hot seat, requesting retroactive approval for a series of alterations already completed without prior consent, including a new roof and an ADA-compliant ramp.

Sigler openly acknowledged his misjudgment, revealing he had been under the impression that the Virgin Islands’ regulatory environment was more forgiving. “I was misled to believe that oversight was minimal here, leading me to proceed with changes without the necessary approvals,” he conceded, stressing his realization of the committee’s diligence.

This incident is not the committee’s first encounter with projects advancing without the requisite permissions. Committee Chair Akil Peterson expressed a repeated concern over such practices, highlighting a pattern of disregard for the established approval process.

The situation took a turn when Sigler likened his predicament to that of a character from popular culture, ensnared in a web of island-life challenges, stressing the financial stakes involved in the renovation project. His candid admission of having been swayed by informal assurances rather than seeking formal permissions sparked a stern rebuke from Peterson, who lamented the wasted efforts in facilitating a smoother process for Sigler’s project.

The dialogue further unveiled that Sigler was not fully informed about the property’s historical significance and regulatory requirements. He expressed regret over his assumptions regarding aesthetic changes and pledged to align more closely with the committee’s guidance moving forward.

Committee member Enrique Rodriguez voiced disappointment upon discovering unapproved windows already on the property, a move that exemplified the recurring theme of preemptive action without official sanction. The committee was firm in its stance of preserving the integrity of historical sites while acknowledging the economic potential of such endeavors.

In an effort to rectify the situation, the committee suggested halting further work until a comprehensive strategy was formulated, emphasizing the importance of a collaborative approach to ensure both preservation and progress. Acknowledging Sigler’s openness about his mistakes, the committee expressed a willingness to work closely with him, contingent on strict adherence to preservation laws and proper communication channels.

The meeting concluded with conditional approvals for some of the completed work, underscoring the committee’s commitment to balancing historical integrity with developmental aspirations. The episode serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of adherence to regulatory frameworks, especially in contexts rich with cultural and historical heritage.

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Advancing Affordable Housing in the USVI: Developers Receive Specialized Training

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The drive for more affordable housing in the U.S. Virgin Islands gained momentum this week with a specialized training session for current and aspiring developers, marking the second initiative under the territory’s Housing Ecosystem Development Grant Program. The event, orchestrated by Enterprise Community Partners and the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York (FHLBNY), unfolded at the scenic Emerald Beach resort on St. Thomas.

This educational workshop, dubbed “Financing Affordable Housing Development in the Virgin Islands,” aimed to fortify the affordable housing sector by offering insights into both federal and local funding avenues. It attracted a diverse group of participants, including the pioneering grantees from the program’s first roundtable in August 2023, alongside representatives from key organizations vested in enhancing the territory’s housing landscape.

Jelani Newton, Enterprise Community Partners’ senior director, emphasized the workshop’s goal to empower local developers with the tools and knowledge needed to advance in the affordable housing arena. “Increasing the development of affordable homes is central to our mission,” Newton stated, highlighting the workshop’s role in bolstering local efforts through technical support and valuable information resources.

Peter Grof, a community investment officer at FHLBNY, pointed out the critical need for stable, affordable housing as a cornerstone for personal and community growth. The collaboration between Enterprise and FHLBNY seeks to address the Virgin Islands’ acute housing affordability crisis by fostering a more vibrant and inclusive housing sector.

The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands has traditionally spearheaded affordable housing initiatives. However, there is a growing recognition of the vital role that private sector engagement in housing and community development can play in meeting the substantial demand for affordable living spaces.

Last year, three organizations—one from each island—were awarded $100,000 grants to fuel their efforts in expanding affordable housing options for residents. These recipients, St. Croix Foundation for Community Development Inc., WMWilliams & Partners, Inc., and Adrian Realty LLC, were among the attendees at the recent training, alongside other interested parties from the development sphere.

This concerted push towards increasing affordable housing availability not only underscores the importance of cross-sector collaboration but also highlights the commitment of various stakeholders in making the Virgin Islands a more inclusive and equitable place to live.

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Progressive Developments in USVI’s Maritime and Aviation Sectors Unveiled by Port Authority Board

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The Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) Board has recently announced a series of significant advancements in its maritime and aviation operations. The authority is taking bold strides to enhance and expand its services, reflecting a commitment to fostering growth and efficiency in these critical sectors.

In a move to boost the capacity and capabilities of the marine division, VIPA’s board has greenlighted negotiations to expand Priority Road Services’ lease at the Wilfred “Bomba” Allick Port and Transshipment Center on St. Thomas. This expansion will add over 100,000 square feet to their current operations, allowing for an increase in non-exclusive shipping services and providing much-needed space for hazardous materials storage.

Furthermore, VIPA has renewed its lease agreement with Aquatic Car Rentals for counter space at the Urman Victor Fredericks Marine Terminal in Red Hook, St. Thomas. This three-year lease, with an option for a two-year extension, ensures Aquatic Car Rentals can continue to offer crucial ferry ticketing services that facilitate travel between the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

The aviation sector is also seeing significant developments, with the board approving a comprehensive proposal from Stantec. This engineering consultancy will undertake airfield surveys, design, and procurement documentation for a critical FAA-mandated airfield marking project at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport. This initiative, set to commence in April, is crucial for enhancing safety and operational efficiency.

Additionally, a master service agreement with Michael Baker International will bring expert construction cost estimating and technical review services to VIPA on a task order basis. This three-year agreement, extendable for two additional one-year periods, is poised to streamline project management and ensure fiscal responsibility across VIPA’s endeavors.

In an effort to preserve the territory’s rich cultural heritage, the board has also approved funds exceeding $149,000 for the relocation of a historic shipwreck in Charlotte Amalie Harbor. This initiative, essential for the upcoming dredging project, underscores VIPA’s dedication to environmental stewardship and compliance with regulatory requirements for obtaining necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Further enhancing infrastructure, the board has authorized additional electrical and drainage improvements at the St. Croix Passenger Transportation Center and its adjoining parking garage. These upgrades are part of VIPA’s ongoing commitment to providing top-tier facilities for residents and visitors alike.

These initiatives, spearheaded by the diligent efforts of the V.I. Port Authority’s Governing Board, mark a significant leap forward in strengthening the territory’s maritime and aviation infrastructure. Through strategic investments and partnerships, VIPA is setting the stage for a future of enhanced connectivity, safety, and service excellence in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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