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St. Thomas Historic Committee Seeks to Clarify Stance on Food Trucks Amidst Concerns Over Downtown Businesses

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The St. Thomas Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) convened last Thursday, shedding light on concerns surrounding the approval process of mobile food vendors operating within downtown Charlotte Amalie. This meeting, ignited by proposals from the V.I. Department of Property and Procurement, expanded into a comprehensive discussion about the perception and genuine intent of the committee’s actions and decisions.

At the meeting’s tail end, HPC Chair Akil Petersen sought clarity from Sean Krigger, the Acting Director of the VI State Historical Preservation Society, about the approval methods for these culinary mobile establishments. In a recount of earlier administrative decisions, Mr. Krigger revealed, “There’s been a standing agreement from prior administrations to implement a broad moratorium on mobile food vendors in the downtown zone.” Consequently, under the new plan from Property & Procurement, food trucks are expected to remain predominantly in the Vendors Plaza region and other spots previously allocated to approved vendors, both during the day and at night.

The process of initiating a food truck business seems fairly detailed. Interested parties need to first acquire clearance for their desired spot from the Administrator’s Office. Subsequent approvals concerning the truck’s aesthetics like signage, graphics, and branding would come under the HPC’s purview. Finally, a police permit, alongside the necessary licenses to sell edible products, completes the requisite approvals.

The meeting also touched upon a contentious issue regarding a food truck stationed in front of the popular SeaGrape restaurant. “That operation wasn’t vetted through us,” Mr. Petersen pointed out. This was affirmed by Mr. Krigger, who stated that the vendor had received approval directly from the Administrator’s Office. The broader concern raised by Mr. Petersen highlighted the food truck’s signage, which he believes doesn’t align with the historic district’s visual standards, and its implications on established businesses with high-rent commitments. He proposed streamlining the approvals process to ensure consistency across the board.

Committee member, Enrique Rodriguez, chimed in with the recommendation of dispatching a “courteous reminder” to St. Thomas Administrator Avery Lewis. This letter’s intent would be to underline the HPC’s vital role in upholding the district’s essence and to cite instances where their role might have been overlooked or bypassed.

In an attempt to clear the air regarding any misunderstandings, Mr. Krigger reminded attendees of the harmonious collaboration between the Administrator’s Office and the HPC. Referring to the contentious issue at hand, he wasn’t entirely sure where the miscommunication had occurred but did recall granting temporary approval for an ice-cream vendor in that location, though it was never activated.

Wrapping up, Mr. Petersen voiced his aspirations for the relocated food truck, emphasizing the importance of supporting brick-and-mortar establishments that contribute significantly to local rent and economy. As the curtains drew on the meeting, Mr. Rodriguez quashed any misconceptions about the HPC’s perceived stringent nature. He robustly defended their position by stating that an impressive 99.5% of applications during that session received the green light, rebuffing the misconception that the HPC plays hardball on approvals.

In the grand scheme of things, this meeting served as a testament to the complexities of balancing heritage preservation, local business interests, and modern entrepreneurial pursuits in a dynamic urban landscape.

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Ocean Point Terminals Proposes Conclusion of Water Distribution Effort, Citing Limited Participation

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Ocean Point Terminals, the entity previously known as Limetree Bay Terminals, has approached the judiciary with a request to terminate a mandate compelling it to operate a water distribution initiative. This program was established for individuals reporting negative impacts due to multiple hydrocarbon emissions from the refinery throughout the initial six months of 2021.

In a motion submitted in the latter part of January, Ocean Point Terminals presented an argument centered on the observation that a minimal number of the supposed several thousand potential claimants have sought to participate in the water distribution scheme. They disclosed that out of these, 290 households have applied, with a mere 124 qualifying for the program.

Within this group of 124 households, the company highlighted that 12 have not retrieved any water at all, and approximately 86 have obtained less than half of their entitled water allocation. Moreover, Ocean Point Terminals pointed out that “four out of the six resident witnesses who provided testimony during the Preliminary Injunction hearings” — sessions that led to the reinstatement of the water program — “have not submitted applications,” according to statements from the company’s legal team.

Remarkably, only one among the 44 named plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit has sought water from Ocean Point Terminals. This, the company argues, indicates a significant decline in the need for emergency water provisions.

Despite the tepid interest, Ocean Point Terminals reported incurring substantial expenses to sustain the court-mandated distribution effort, detailing costs that include approximately $138,000 in administrative fees up to the end of November, alongside over $118,302 in operational expenditures. The total financial burden of complying with the court’s order has approached nearly $300,000, a stark contrast to the $43,000 value of water distributed.

The company argues that the evident disparity between the program’s operational costs and participant engagement demonstrates a shift in circumstances, advocating for the cessation of the injunction to prevent unjust outcomes.

Contrasting with Ocean Point Terminals’ stance, plaintiffs maintain that the program’s existence underscores a tangible need among affected individuals for relief from the harm they’ve experienced. They argue that terminating the water distribution now, based on the argument of insufficient participation, would unjustly deprive around 140 individuals of essential water access. The plaintiffs propose that, instead of discontinuing the program, efforts should be directed towards refining eligibility criteria to enhance access and reduce costs, thereby addressing the needs of those most affected.

The debate over the future of the water distribution program encapsulates a broader discourse on environmental accountability and the imperative for tangible solutions to address community needs, highlighting a critical moment in the ongoing dialogue between Ocean Point Terminals and the affected residents.

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Allegations of Discrimination at Crowley Maritime: A St. Thomas Professional’s Fight for Justice

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Kishma Vincent, a dedicated professional with two decades of experience at Crowley Caribbean Services and Crowley Maritime Corporation, has initiated legal action, alleging wrongful termination under the guise of mismanagement to favor a less-qualified candidate from Puerto Rico. Appointed as Director of Operations for the Virgin Islands in 2022, Vincent was responsible for managing the company’s terminal and warehouses and directing local sales and marketing efforts in the region, overseeing a team of 63 employees across St. Thomas and St. Croix.

Vincent’s tenure was marked by challenges from the outset, with claims of preferential treatment toward Spanish-speaking managers from Puerto Rico by her supervisors, Enrique Figueroa, Senior Director of Caribbean Operations, and Salvador Menoyo, a Vice President, both of Puerto Rican descent. Allegations include being sidelined from crucial meetings, excluded from company social gatherings, and subjected to disparaging remarks regarding the intelligence of the local population compared to Puerto Ricans.

The lawsuit details several incidents purportedly leading to Vincent’s dismissal, including the misplacement of shipping containers prior to her directorship and a misinterpreted situation regarding an employee allegedly bringing a firearm to work. Vincent asserts these reasons were baseless, emphasizing her proactive approach to addressing potential conflicts of interest within the company.

Since her departure, Vincent alleges her responsibilities have been transferred to a former subordinate, purportedly with lesser qualifications. She seeks justice through the Virgin Islands District Court, demanding compensation for lost wages, mental anguish, and punitive damages against Crowley for what she perceives as blatant racial discrimination.

This case emerges amidst Crowley Maritime’s continued commitment to the USVI, highlighted by a recent 10-year agreement with the V.I. Port Authority, underscoring the importance of fair and equitable treatment of employees in sustaining operations and fostering community relations.

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Public Services Commission Initiates Probe into Liberty Mobile’s Service Challenges

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In a move reflecting escalating concerns over service disruptions, the Public Services Commission (PSC) has commenced a formal investigation into Liberty Mobile’s operational challenges, following its acquisition of AT&T’s local operations. This decision comes in the wake of substantial feedback from affected customers, spotlighting issues encountered during the network’s migration process.

During a recent session, PSC Executive Director Sandra Satori briefed commissioners on a surge of customer grievances, amplified by observations from social media platforms. These complaints predominantly revolve around the quality of calls, delays in text messaging, frequent call drops, and inconsistent area coverage. Notably, Satori emphasized that these service disruptions persisted even after customers received system upgrades, leading to a spike in spam notifications and complications with number portability.

Satori advised the commission to closely scrutinize Liberty Mobile’s acquisition and migration strategies, alongside its efforts to enhance wireless service quality within the territory.

Commissioner Laura Nichols-Samms, who recently transitioned to Liberty Mobile, shared her personal encounter with the migration process. She highlighted the confusion caused by pre-migration communications being issued in Spanish, a barrier for non-Spanish speakers. Nichols-Samms also recounted a significant service interruption she experienced, which necessitated a cumbersome visit to Liberty’s St. Thomas office—a sentiment echoed by many in similar straits.

In response to these concerns, Ravindra Maywahlall, Liberty’s new country manager, outlined several corrective measures. These include prioritizing communications in English, augmenting the number of English-speaking representatives, and introducing “fast track lines” for specific customer groups requiring urgent assistance. Maywahlall also mentioned that compensation for service disruptions is being considered on an individual basis.

Despite these assurances, the commission expressed dissatisfaction, particularly highlighting the inconvenience for customers in St. John, who must travel to St. Thomas for new SIM cards or devices. Commissioner David Hughes stressed the urgency of establishing a local presence on St. John to alleviate customer hardships.

Furthermore, Commissioner Raymond Williams criticized the overall management of the migration process, labeling the service quality and response times as severely lacking. The limited residency of senior management in the USVI, including Maywahlall, was identified as a contributing factor to these operational shortcomings.

Bala Balakrishnan, overseeing the migration program, presented a technical overview, emphasizing ongoing efforts to ensure network compatibility and enhance customer support. Despite these initiatives, the commission remains concerned about the pace and impact of the migration, drawing comparisons to tech industry precedents for halting problematic rollouts.

Concluding the session, the majority of commissioners endorsed the staff’s recommendation to initiate a thorough investigation into Liberty Mobile’s migration efforts. This step underscores the commission’s commitment to ensuring the telecommunications provider addresses the myriad issues impacting its service quality and customer satisfaction.

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