March 3, 2005 — Frederiksted fishermen seem to be no closer to getting an operable boat ramp from which to launch their fishing boats than they have been since 1999 the date the most recent construction contract was signed.
On Thursday, senators, fishermen, concerned citizens and a representative of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources met at the West End fish market seeking solutions, and got another promise. "This is a sad situation, it has gone on for far too long," George Flores, community activist, said. Flores has been waging a one-man war to bring attention to the plight of the fishermen, the boat access ramp and the pier. "I have called everyone in government," Flores said. "They are harder to get than a three-dollar bill."
Flores said Keith Richards, assistant to the governor for capital projects, when questioned in a Senate meeting in February, said the project would resume by March 10. But Toby Tobias, biologist with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife, said Thursday that a start date cannot be determined at this time.
"The government sincerely regrets the inconvenience caused to the fishing and boating public on St. Croix by the ongoing construction," Tobias said, admitting there is no start date for the project. "Negotiations are still ongoing; it's too early to set a start date." Still, Tobias reiterated that the government is 100 percent behind the completion of the project.
The reconstruction of the pier dates back to 1998 when it was damaged by Hurricane George, said Tobias, who was representing DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett. The Frederiksted facility is the only boat access ramp on the west end of the island. The other access ramp is at the Altoona Lagoon in Christiansted.
Tobias said his office has the responsibility to prepare grants for boat access facilities through the Interior Department. He said the most recent contract had been awarded in October 1999 for $287,000 and the work was to be completed in 120 days.
In November 2004 the Department of Property and Procurement terminated that contract. "The government allowed the contractor to pursue all measures to complete the project," Tobias said. "The work was not competed and the government cancelled the contract."
Tobias said the new deadline for completion is Sept. 30, 2005. That is also the date when the funds associated with the grant will expire. Hurricane season is June through October and the September due date falls in the height of the season. Tobias admitted that hurricane season may interrupt the construction. "We are now at an opportune time in terms of sea conditions to begin work," he said.
Sen. Craig Barshinger asked for the project to be accelerated. "The people have already waited five years, why can't it be done before hurricane season?"
Senators put the blame for the delays squarely on the shoulders of the administration and the contractors.
"The fishermen have been suffering for too many years," Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said. "We need to hold the governor and the executive branch accountable."
Senators clearly showed their frustrations at the delays and did not mince words. "People need to make a living," Sen. Ronald E. Russell said. "The talk needs to stop, just get it done." Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said he hoped Thursday's action was "not another public charade."
Also attending the meeting was Robert McAuliffe, president of the fisherman's cooperative, and Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion and Neville James.
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