Feb. 14, 2006 – Reynaldo "Manta" Turbe threw open the door of his stall at the Gustave Quetel Fishing Center Tuesday afternoon to Matthew McClurg, project manager for the center's reconstruction.
It was the first step in an afternoon of assessing the condition of the structure and determining a time schedule to make projected repairs.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources announced this month that the long-awaited renovation of the building would begin Feb. 27.
In a Monday night meeting, the fishermen forcefully expressed their concern for their immediate livelihood (See "Frenchtown Fishermen Worried").
Stepping into Turbe's small cubicle, McClurg had good news for the fisherman. He said, "We can probably do the painting and wiring around your freezer, if you move it into the center of the area."
That was music to Turbe's ears.
However, that may or may not come to pass. The fishermen have become increasingly concerned about their fate during the projected six-month construction period.
And nearby restaurant owners are equally concerned about what will happen to the already overburdened and limited parking area during the construction period.
Alex Treml, owner of Bella Bleu restaurant across the way, spoke to McClurg, of Custom Builders, who told him that probably up to five parking spaces would be eliminated in the area's final design. "We will fight it tooth and nail, then," said Treml.
McClurg and Treml discussed the situation, and McClurg was amenable to listening to the restaurant owner's concerns.
Treml explained that he had been given almost no notice. He pointed out that February and March are the restaurant's peak tourist periods, the busiest season of the year. "There's already no place to park; this will kill us if more places are blocked off."
McClurg suggested that work could proceed on the back of the fishing center first, thereby leaving the parking lot untouched for February and most of March.
"How about doing it in June?" Treml asked.
"Never happen," said McClurg. "We have a timetable we must stick to, but we can try to rearrange things to accommodate the restaurants and the fishermen."
Claudette Lewis, DPNR deputy commissioner, and Lucia Roberts Francis had some input.
Francis said the contractors couldn't work the way McClurg had explained to Turbe without legal documents absolving DPNR from any responsibility should any of the fishermen's equipment be harmed.
Lewis and Francis talked at length with McClurg and the few fishermen who attended Tuesday's scheduled walk-through of the project. Many of the fishermen who attended Monday evening's meeting were working and unable to attend.
Ted Luscz, owner of Hook, Line & Sinker, talked about his concerns. His restaurant's parking lot can only be reached by going through the main lot. He had been told, incorrectly he said, that the entire lot would be blocked off, eliminating any access to his back lot.
Francis said, "That was never planned. I'm sure the Fire Department would have objected to that, having no access."
Both Luscz and Treml said they are in favor of the renovation. "We think it's a great thing for the area," said Luscz, "but this is our busiest time of year."
Sen. Lorraine Berry also spoke to the group, expressing her concerns. She said she had written to Dean Plaskett, DPNR commissioner, asking him to formulate a favorable solution for the fishermen and the restaurant owners. Berry has for years championed the needs of the Frenchtown and North Side French communities.
After listening to Lewis and Francis Tuesday afternoon, Berry said, "It's all a matter of being clear about the information." She told them, "You should post flyers on the building describing each phase of the work, like two weeks for Phase 1, which will be whatever time it will take."
She also said that she would try to get funding to renovate the nearby dock, which isn't included in the present plans. She said, "It should be completely demolished and rebuilt." She said she would draft legislation to be submitted in a Rules Committee meeting about the governor's recent supplemental budget request.
Lewis and Francis stressed that the work would be done in phases, not all at once, allowing the fishermen the use of their rooms in the meantime. Lewis told the restaurant owners, "We will notify you of any changes in parking from seven to 10 days in advance."
Lewis said plans are still in the works for alternative parking in the area. She also said the V.I. Housing Finance Authority's new parking spaces, behind their new offices in the Frenchtown Mall building, will be available for night parking.
The DPNR officers said there will be a preconstruction meeting at 10 a.m. Feb. 22 in the DPNR conference room, where the contractor and the agency will hash out the remaining problems and confirm a timetable for the work.
Turbe said later, "I love to fish – I've done it all my life. I've taken my little grandson fishing since he was a baby. He said he wanted to be a fisherman, too, but I told him 'no'." Shaking his head, Turbe, with a slight laugh, said, "You can't make it anymore. It's too rough these days."
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