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Positive Progress in Land Exchange Deal Despite Recent Setback in Senate

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The ongoing land exchange deal, a significant collaboration between local and federal governments, was again in the spotlight this Tuesday. Initially ratified by the Legislature, this ambitious agreement proposes the exchange of Whistling Island, known as Whistling Cay, for a valuable parcel of land in Estate Catherineberg St. John. This trade is earmarked for a groundbreaking project – the construction of the island’s first public K-12 school.

The September decision by the 35th Legislature marked a pivotal moment, showcasing a commitment to education and community development. Despite this, a recent legislative session saw a focus on refining the agreement’s wording, a testament to the diligent and thorough approach of our lawmakers.

Senate President Novelle Francis highlighted the need for precision in legislative language, leading to a proposal for a technical amendment. This attention to detail underscores the government’s dedication to ensuring that all legal aspects are meticulously addressed.

Senator Angel Bolques Jr. introduced Amendment 35-543, aiming to enhance the agreement’s clarity without impacting its core objectives. This amendment sought to align the land exchange with the National Park Service Organic Act and relevant federal regulations, ensuring that public access to Fungi Passage remains unchanged.

While there were concerns raised by Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger about potential implications on public access to waterways, these discussions reflect the democratic process at its best – open, transparent, and focused on protecting the interests of the Virgin Islands residents.

Senator Bolques’ reassurance about maintaining traditional access to Fungi Passage highlights the government’s commitment to preserving the rights and privileges of the community. His clarification that the National Park has always allowed unrestricted access and that this will continue is a positive affirmation of the government’s intent to uphold community values.

Despite some opposition, the spirited debate around this amendment demonstrates the government’s dedication to ensuring that any land exchange is conducted with the utmost consideration for public benefit and legal compliance.

The narrow margin in the voting outcome, with the amendment failing to pass, is not necessarily a setback but rather a step in the rigorous process of legislative decision-making. This level of scrutiny and debate is a healthy sign of a vibrant, functioning democracy where every detail is given due consideration.

As the situation evolves, what remains clear is the government’s unwavering commitment to advancing this land exchange deal in a way that best serves the interests of the Virgin Islands’ residents, respecting both local traditions and federal regulations. The path forward may have its challenges, but the dedication to achieving a beneficial outcome for all stakeholders remains a top priority.

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USVI Community Pulse

V.I. Parole Board to Review Cases of Manslaughter, Robbery, and Fraud

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The V.I. Parole Board has released its schedule for parole hearings in June, inviting testimony from victims, family members, and other interested parties.

To submit testimony, written comments or requests to appear before the Board must be sent by May 30, 2024. Correspondence should be addressed to:

Chairman of the Parole Board
John A. Bell Adult Correctional Facility
Rural Route 1, Box 9909
Kingshill, VI 00850-9715
Phone: (340) 773-6309 ext. 6817
Email: [email protected]

Hearing Schedule

June 3:
Edwin Rivera, convicted of second-degree robbery and currently incarcerated at the Citrus County Detention Facility in Florida, will have his parole application reviewed.

June 5:
Five inmates from the Tallahatchie County Facility in Missouri will be heard:

  • Jahzeel Fenton – First-degree assault (domestic violence)
  • Yamini Potter – Grand larceny, identity theft, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice
  • Jim Wallace – Voluntary manslaughter
  • Elieser Edwards – First-degree robbery
  • Dekumar Rogers – Unauthorized possession of a firearm

June 7:
The board will review the case of Mekel Blash, serving a sentence for second-degree murder, from the Wallens Ridge State Prison, Keen Mountain Correctional Facility, and Red Onion State Prison in Virginia.

June 10:
Applications from inmates at the John A. Bell Correctional Facility will be considered:

  • Francisco Tirado – First-degree unlawful sexual contact
  • Ethelbert Benjamin – First-degree unlawful sexual contact
  • William Wilson – Possession of marijuana with intent to distribute

June 11:
The board will hear applications from inmates of the Alexander A. Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex:

  • Curtis Petersen – Stalking (domestic violence)
  • Edward Paul – Unauthorized possession of a firearm
  • Ray Sanderson – First-degree attempted robbery
  • Shamall Fleming – Second-degree assault (domestic violence)

Public Advisory

The Parole Board reminds the public that parole eligibility is based on the inmate’s sentence and V.I. parole statutes. Inclusion on the eligibility list does not guarantee parole or a scheduled hearing. Parole can only be granted on the recommendation of the Director of the Bureau of Corrections. Additionally, release dates depend on various conditions, including approval by the State Council of Interstate Compact for the Supervision of Adult Offenders.

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USVI Prosecutors and Public Defenders Now Eligible for Law School Loan Repayment Grants

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Prosecutors and federal public defenders in the U.S. Virgin Islands now have a chance to ease their law school loan burdens through a new grant program.

The Virgin Islands Law Enforcement Planning Commission (LEPC) has announced the acceptance of applications for the John R. Justice Grant Program. This initiative, established during the Obama administration, provides loan repayment assistance to qualifying prosecutors and public defenders who commit to staying in their positions for at least three years.

This year, the LEPC has secured $51,840 in grant funds for the program. They plan to distribute approximately 10 grants of around $5,000 each, although the final amount could vary based on the number of applicants. “Awards may increase depending on the number of respondents,” the LEPC stated.

The grants are available to full-time federal public defenders and prosecutors. Full-time is defined as working at least 75% of a standard 40-hour work week. The selection process will prioritize applicants who demonstrate the greatest financial need in repaying their student loans.

The application process involves several steps: income verification, school loan verification, and the completion of a John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program Service Agreement. Applicants must also submit additional documents, including education loan records and proof of employment. The LEPC has indicated it will work with the Department of Labor to account for any increases in the cost of living.

Applications must be submitted electronically to the LEPC by 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 30, 2024, at [email protected]. Incomplete applications or those lacking required signatures and documents will not be considered.

For further information or to request an application, interested parties can contact Ms. Carmen Potter, Executive Assistant to the Director, at (340) 774-6400 or via email at [email protected].

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Christiansted Bypass Renamed to Honor DPW Veteran Aloy “Wenty” Nielsen

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In a ceremony held during National Public Works Week, the Christiansted Bypass was officially renamed in honor of Aloy “Wenty” Nielsen, a dedicated public servant whose contributions have significantly shaped the infrastructure across the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Nielsen, who has worked with the Department of Public Works (DPW) for over 30 years, was recognized for his extensive impact on public infrastructure projects on all three islands. DPW Commissioner Derek Gabriel highlighted Nielsen’s instrumental role in several key projects, including the development at Point Udall on St. Croix, the roundabout on St. John, and the Long Bay Revitalization on St. Thomas.

“It’s really the volume of work over his lifetime that we’re honoring,” said Jomo McClean, DPW’s Highway Program Manager and master of ceremonies. He emphasized Nielsen’s vision, patience, and leadership, which have been crucial in securing federal funds for large-scale projects like the Christiansted Bypass.

Senate President Novelle Francis praised Nielsen as a “quiet superhero” whose relentless efforts over the decades ensured the completion of the bypass despite numerous delays and setbacks. Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach also commended the shift towards honoring living individuals who have significantly contributed to the territory’s development.

Addressing the crowd, Nielsen expressed his humility and joy at the recognition. He reminisced about the bypass project, which originated from a 1972 study, describing it as a testament to persistence and cooperation. Initially met with public skepticism, the project eventually won widespread approval for its positive impact on traffic and quality of life in Christiansted.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. admitted his early doubts about the project’s feasibility but acknowledged its successful completion as a result of determination and collaborative effort. Nielsen echoed this sentiment, noting the bypass’s role in easing traffic and providing a recreational space for residents.

While celebrating the honor, Nielsen credited the collective dedication of all those involved in making the project a reality. The Aloy “Wenty” Nielsen Bypass, he concluded, symbolizes not only physical connectivity but also the spirit of progress and cooperation within the community.

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