The island’s two largest resorts have joined with seven hotels on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix to contribute as much as $75,000 each to drum up more business. The cooperative marketing effort has been organized by the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association along with CoGo Worldwide Vacations, a travel wholesaler responsible for selling as many as 60 percent of all travel packages to the territory, according to the St. John Source. For the money, the hotels will be included in newspaper advertisements appearing in four U.S. east coast markets, and spotlighted by Liberty Travel Agency offices nationally. Beverly Nicholson, president of the hotel group, called the agreement really important, pointing out it’s been more than a year since the group has worked with CoGo.
Blame it on rising oil prices. The Water and Power Authority has gotten approval to raise utility bills in September. Director Alberto Bruno-Vega expects electric bills to rise by six percent, according to the Virgin Islands Daily News. WAPA said it has absorbed $17 million in higher fuel costs since January and now will recoup that money in higher prices over the next 36 months. “It’s the reality of the market,” Bruno Vega said. WAPA officials estimate the average residential customer will be paying about 20 cents per kilowatt hour. By comparison, stateside electricity customers in Virginia pay about 5.5 cents KWH.
You can now pay your WAPA bill on the Internet. “Why stand in line?,” said spokeswoman Laurie Christian, in comments to the St. John Source. The agency’s Web site is www.viwapa.vi. Customers logon using their account number and can then pay their bills, request a change of address and look at their consumption rates. The Web site’s home page carries a notice that it was “partially made possible by a grant from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.” What’s that about?
“They keep breeding,” said Rafe Boulon, the chief of resource management at the VI National Park and so, after a year-long public review process, it’s time to begin thinning the herds of goat and sheep on parkland. The animals cause environmental damage by eating vegetation that helps protect against erosion. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will help in trapping and shooting animals. If residents would like to save a goat or sheep that’s caught in the Park, they can contact the Park at 340 693-8950, ext. 240 to request adoption. Boulon told the St. John Source there are new herds of animals at Lind Point and along the North Shore, causing new damage to previously unhurt areas. The details of the park’s plan are on the Web site of the Friends of the National Park at http://www.friendsvinp.org/park/plan/dgfea.pdf.
Concern about Hurricane Frances appeared to dampen residential activity during the past week: only one new residential property was added to the Multiple Listing Service while two commercial properties came off the list. Agents added another multi-million dollar Peter Bay property to their offerings, 4-bedrooms, 4.5-bath, listed at $5.5 million.
At the Marketplace, Holiday Homes reportedly closed a contract for the sale of its neighbor across the hallway, the 1st Floor Bookstore. It had been listed at $200,000. Meanwhile, the pizza and sandwich shop, the Rolling Pin, listed for months, came off the Multiple Listing Service. No word yet whether it was sold, or the owner – who also has the new pizza place in town at Boulon – is just giving the sales effort a rest.
Since early this month, and before Frances, five residences went on the market: 5-bewdrooms, 4-baths in Contant at $1.4 million; 2-bedrooms, 2-baths in Calabash Boom at $545,000; 4-bedrooms, 4.5 baths in Fish Bay for $1.7 million; 3-bedrooms, 3.5 baths for $2.4 million in San Souci, and in the same expensive neighborhood, a 5-bedrooms, 5.5 bath San Souci property at $4.2 million.
The average house for sale on St. John, offered thru the MLS, is priced at $2.5 million. The average listed property has 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, and a pool. There were 35 listings at the start of the week.
The inventory of land for sale increased by 2 to 120 parcels. Condo listings, steady at 8. Timeshare unit listings down 6 to 93.
The Planning and Natural Resources Department has told owners of about four dozen boats in Johnson Bay they must move out. The government says the Bay is not a legitimate mooring area, despite its being used as such for more than 10 years. Some boaters say they, in fact, do have mooring permits issued by DPNR. “How you can have a mistake going on for 10 years is amazing,” said Morgan MacDonald, a naval architect who has moored his boat in Johnson Bay for almost two years. The department expects to set a final date for boaters to leave after one more meeting with owners of the crafts, set for Monday, Sept. 20, in the Emmaus Moravian Church fellowship hall. MacDonald has headed up boaters’ efforts to form the Coral Bay Association for Marine Planning but says, “DPNR has refused to engage in any discussion with the boaters.”
The Coral Bay Community Council convened a meeting to hear the four candidates for the VI’s At Large senate seat, but only one attended: St. John resident, and frequent candidate, Craig Barshinger. Coral Bay resident Kathy Damon was one of about 50 people who attended the session at the John’s Folly Learning Center, telling the St John Source, “That’s very rude. If they can’t keep their promises.” The other candidates pleaded conflicting events on St. Croix, and one said he had a family emergency. Barshinger said protecting Coral Harbor from silt runoff is a critical issue for the island. He suggested the federal government should assist in the costs of paving roads around the Harbor. Both candidates for the VI’s delegate to Congress attended the forum. Incumbent Donna Christensen defended her backing of a bill to require Congress to name a Chief Financial Officer for the islands. Her opponent, Basil Ottley Jr., opposed the idea, saying, “We don’t know the kind of person we’re going to get.”
A trade group representing participants in the government’s Economic Development Commission has met with Department of the Interior officials in Washington to clarify rules for EDC beneficiaries. Since an official of the IRS warned companies they had to meet a residency requirement to qualify for generous tax benefits for EDC companies, some firms have considered closing. “That’s an important loss of revenue to the territory,” said Benjamin Rivera Jr., executive director of the USVI Economic Alliance. He told the St. John Source, attorneys for some EDC companies have recommended they halt operations for fear the currently-unstated residency requirements may eventually be a problem. Richards said EDC companies contribute as much as $75 million a year to the territory, in addition to donations to local charities of another $25 million. The Alliance official said, “We were very well received and believe that Interior heard our message. (We now) will state our case to the Treasury Department.”
The parade, scheduled for 11:00, started at noon, and stretched for all of 15 minutes. Led by the Carolina Corral, it also included, in order, the Virgin Islands Police and Fire Departments, Miss St John (Tonya Powell) and St. John Jr. Miss 2004; St. John Prince and Princess 2004; the Middle Age Majorettes; the Rising Stars Pan Band; the Animal Care Center of St. John; and St. John Rescue. A good time was had by all! This was followed by a food fair and “tramp” at the Coral Bay ball field, and a flashlight walk after dark. (Courtesy Brad Felmly, Starlit Escape.)
St. John’s Craig Barshinger has signed up to make another run at the At-Large seat in the VI Senate. He’s been trying in each election since 1996, collecting 40 percent of the vote in 2002, but still losing to incumbent Sen. Almando Liburd. Barshinger is one of 51 people who filed to compete for the 15 seats which are up for election on Nov. 2. All 15 incumbents are running for reelection and have presented their petitions. A primary election will be held Sept. 11. Thirty candidates are running for 7 seats from St. Croix, 16 on St. Thomas for 7 spots, and five people will contest the At Large seat. VI delegate to Congress Donna Christensen is running for her fifth term but has opposition from three candidates.
A Mayor-Council form of managing St. John has been part of discussions being held by an Island Council Committee formed with the encouragement of Gov. Charles Turnbull. The Committee sponsored by the St. John Community Foundation met at Fish Trap restaurant to proceed with work on a proposal for the Governor. Craig Barshinger suggested locals could vote for members of an island council, despite concern voiced by one woman who worried people from St. Thomas and St. Croix would also participate in the balloting and overwhelm St. John citizens’ interests, the St. John Source reported. Carol DeSenne, executive director of the Foundation, said the committee plans town meetings and will distribute brochures to involve more people in the discussion and planning.