The territory's Public Works commissioner compared Charlotte Amalie's harbor to the gold mines of South Africa as he opened the first session of the Charlotte Amalie- St. Thomas Transportation and Community Development Workshop on Monday.
The harbor is St. Thomas' gold mine, Harold Thompson Jr. said.
A handful of transportation and highway specialists along with representatives from all segments of the community will sit down, roll up their sleeves and spend the rest of the week trying to hammer out a comprehensive transportation and highway-use plan for St. Thomas.
The project, a joint effort between the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce and the Office of the Governor, was kicked off Monday afternoon at Haagensen House with a panel discussion to establish the workshop's goals.
Jacky Grimshaw, a community development consultant from Chicago, acted as mediator for the panel, which was made up of West Indian Co. Ltd. President Edward Thomas, businesswoman Avna Cassinelli, Keith Richards, president of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, former Tourism director Leona Bryant, former Conservation Commissioner Darlan Brin, architect Chaneel Callwood-Daniels, Police Chief Jose Garcia and Capt. Lettsome of the Police Department.
Grimshaw asked the panelists to come up with a vision of how they would like to see the harbor a year from now, five years from now and 10 years from now. Some shared their memories of the waterfront and some had larger visions.
Bryant, a radio talk show host, vehemently said she didn't want to see any more cement on the waterfront.
The current design on the table, known as Plan 8, calls for a four-lane highway to be built out into the harbor and around the Legislature building.
Brin suggested putting a dock at Long Point on the east end so cargo destined for east end businesses wouldn't have to be trailered through town. He also said issues like the sewage "stench" that greets visitors arriving at the airport and "treeless" developments throughout the island need to be addressed.
Thomas reiterated his call for water buses to bring cruise ship passengers to town and said water-based transit is one obvious solution to traffic backups. And, he said, the numbers of cruise ship visitors will continue to grow so the island must find new ways to move them efficiently.
Cassinelli said the only public space on St. Thomas is Magens Bay. Noting many people today want to walk for health and recreational reasons, she suggested a tree-lined walkway from Havensight to Frenchtown where visitors and residents could walk, run or even ride bicycles.
"There is a worldwide movement to use waterfronts to enhance communities," Richards said, adding St. Thomas should follow their example. Richards questioned whether St. Thomas ought to limit the number of cruise ship visitors to preserve its infrastructure and the quality of the visitors' experience, a suggestion rejected by others, including Thomas.
In a videotaped message, Delegate Donna Christian-Christiansen called for comprehensive planning, a sentiment echoed by Brin who said the territory needs a land-use plan to guide development.
"There is no standard for zoning," Brin said.
One point brought home by Grimshaw and Federal Highway Administration general counsel Karen Skelton was the need for public participation in the process. Skelton also said FHA funding can be used with great flexibility, not just to build new roads.
Work groups involving targeted members of the community and planning experts will continue Tuesday and Wednesday. The results will be presented to the public during an open house at 11:30 a.m. Friday at Haagensen House.