April 14, 2003 – A hearing was held Monday night to discuss applications for funding from the Community Development Block Grants program. Director Laurence Joshua said the entire program only had $1.9 million available for projects on all three islands; therefore, not all projects could be funded.
Joshua said his department only makes recommendations on dividing up the funds to Gov. Charles Turnbull, who can agree with them or not. Block Grants applications were requested to fund projects from St. John's fishermen's market to a Safety Zone shelter.
The Planning and Natural Resources Department has asked for $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to improve the St. John fishermen's market.
Lucia R. Francis, who heads DPNR's Environmental Enforcement Division, said: "We want to bring it up to standard."
Francis said that currently three to five fishermen use the existing market, which is tucked out of sight behind the U.S. Customs and Immigration building at the Creek.
She said she envisioned eight to 10 fishermen would use the rebuilt market.
The Block Grant funds would go to install running water, to build a bulkhead for the boats and toward other improvements. Currently, the area has a roof and tables for cleaning fish.
Craig Barshinger asked how many dollars worth of fish were sold by fishermen using the existing facility. He said that when he worked for DPNR's Fish and Wildlife Division, his job was to keep track of those figures and he never saw "any significant amount" sold.
Francis said she did not have a figure, but said Fish and Wildlife could supply it.
Carole DeSenne said that she's often gone to buy fish, but found the fishermen didn't have any to sell.
As for the Cruz Bay parking crisis that would prevent fish buyers from parking anywhere near close to the fish market, Deputy Public Works Director Ira Wade said that ground should break on the nearby Cruz Bay vendor's plaza/parking garage by July. He said customers could park there.
The Safety Zone asked for $350,000 to complete construction of a shelter. Director Iris Kern said that the first phase, which will have three bedrooms, is nearly complete. The second phase will add another three bedrooms.
"A shelter is a necessary component in the continuum of care," Kern said.
The organization received $300,000 for the first building phase and to finish land payments, Kern said.
She said that in 2002, the agency served 243 clients. However, not all of them needed the find safe haven in a shelter.
Kern said that previously the agency found shelter for its clients in vacant vacation villas, but this winter they are filled with paying guests. She said the situation is so serious that one woman had to live at the Safety Zone office for three weeks.
The St. John Community Foundation asked for $34,240 to help fund an enrichment program for at-risk boys aged 13 and 14. Carole DeSenne, the organization's director, said the money would help expand the program from 20 to 40 boys. The total program cost ran $56,436, but it receives funding from sources other than block grants.
DeSenne said the program helps build self-esteem through projects like photography and exploring the V.I. National Park.
"We have seen improvements with that group of young men," board member Harry Daniel added.
The V.I. Resource Center for the Disabled asked for $20,500 to fund an after-school program for students who need a helping hand.
Additionally, the Johns Folly Learning Institute requested $37,000 to run a summer agricultural program for low- to moderate-income students.
Helping Others in a Positive Environment, an HIV program, asked for $25,000, but no one from the organization showed up to defend the request.
He asked the dozen people at the hearing whether they thought the Safety Zone's shelter or DPNR's fishermen's market should be funded. The shelter got the vast majority of the votes.
However, he pointed out that the decision ultimately rested with the Legislature. His department makes recommendations to Gov. Charles Turnbull, who can agree with them or not. The governor sends his recommendations to the Senate.
Several people commented that since St. John is lumped with St. Thomas, it doesn't get its fair share. The $1.9 million must be equally divided between St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John.
The Block Grant hearings continue Tuesday on St. Thomas at 4 p.m. at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. St. Croix's hearings begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the U.S. District Court building in Christiansted.

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