Home News Local news '90s BROUGHT GROWTH – FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE

'90s BROUGHT GROWTH – FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE

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St. John has come a long way in the last decade, residents agree, and not all of the developments qualify as progress. Moving into the year 2000, native and adopted St. Johnians responded to a request from the Source to reflect on changes on their island since 1990 with a mixture of awe at the progress and regret for what has fallen by the side.
St. John administrator Julian Harley came up with a list of nuts-and-bolts changes he's seen on the island over the last decade: The new Loredon Boynes Ferry Dock, dedicated in 1994; the reopening that same year of the Myrah Keating-Smith Clinic, damaged in Hurricane Hugo; the opening of the ScotiaBank branch, bringing the island a second banking presence in addition to Chase; the opening of Palm Plaza Shopping Center and several mini-supermarkets that carry items previously not available on the island; construction of the new Leander Jurgens Zone D Police Station; and the closing of the St. John Lumber Yard
In terms of institutional activity, Harley cited "a bigger and better St. John Fourth of July Festival"; the creation, after Hurricane Marilyn, of the St. John Action Committee; the growing popularity of barging cars between St. John and St. Thomas; the growth of the island's luxury vacation villa industry; and greater evidence of crime – specifically more murders and robberies.
For businesswoman Cheryl Miller, co-president of the St. John Action Committee, hurricanes – starting with the aftermath of 1989's Hugo – and the island's ability to deal with them represent significant changes for the island.
She cited "the development of emergency services through the community funding them" and through the efforts of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency. In times past, she said, "St. John has been left alone during crises, and now here we are making St. John Rescue a vital, pulsing part of St. John, and that's important." Recalling the work of the late Anibal "Chickie" Morciglio, VITEMA deputy director for St. John, "coming over here and putting it together," she said the result is "a monument to him."
Ben Richards, a retired Public Works Department employee on St. John, cited the island's dramatic population changes that have brought with them increased development. There has been an "influx of new faces, mainly continentals," he said, notably in Coral Bay, "and a lot of private homes have been built."
To Roy Sewer, former Julius E. Sprauve School principal and retired St. John administrator, there has been a growing separation of native St. Johnians from the decision-making process since the 1980s. Governors seldom visit St. John anymore, he said; fewer native St. Johnians are being named to executive positions in administration, police, education and health areas; and fewer St. John people serve on government committees. As recently as the '80s, he said, "there was a representative on each board from St. John for the St. Thomas-St. John District."
In Sewer's view, too, "We've built a nice police station, but we have not filled it with efficiency. . . Very seldom do you see a policeman directing traffic or walking the streets." As far as specific problems, he cited neglect in road maintenance and garbage collection and added, "Parking is an increasing problem."
To Guy Benjamin, educator, author and historian, one impressive change was the introduction of a successful mass transit system in 1997. "Being able to come from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay for 55 cents as a senior citizen – I will always remember Governor Schneider for that," he said.
Other changes that came to St. John in the '90s — not cited by those approached by the Source – included the almost-installation of the island's first traffic light (the plan was canceled in response to community protest); the opening of a full-time veterinary service; the opening of a second gas station, in Coral Bay; the founding of The Safety Zone, an agency mainly addressing domestic violence; and the coming of satellite television service.
Mary Blazine, St. John Community Foundation executive director, said progress has come over the last 10 years at the expense of the island's laid-back ambience. In her opinion, "Prestige is the No. 1 demon. The reason people come to St. John is not its natural beauty. The reason most people come to St. John is so they can stay in the fancy vacation village."
However, she added, "I think one of the good things is that some of the people who have come to live on St. John have begun to recognize the culture here and have decided to be part of it. . . I think we have to thank the St. Johnians for that, because they have raised consciousness about it – and the family atmosphere, because St. Johnians have such tight-knit families."
Hope for the future, she said, lies in the fact that "St. John is still very forgiving. There are still some eccentricities here, but it's still a very forgiving place."
V.I. National Park ranger Denise Georges was less optimistic. Migration patterns have bled the island of some of what makes it special, she said, and as the population has increased, "the warmth has left." She added, "It's still here, but it's not the same. If we don't watch it, we'll be just like St. Thomas."

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