Safari-Style Taxis a Thing of the Past?

safari truckOk folks, so there’s some more drama brewing with the island’s taxi situation and we have to admit, it doesn’t make us happy.

For those of you who have ridden around in an island safari taxi, you know how much fun it is to cruise down North Shore Road with the wind in your hair as you take in the island’s beautiful sites. Well it seems those days may be numbered due to a certain law that was created back in 2009.

This is a tad confusing, so please bear with us…

So back in 2009, the Virgin Islands Taxi Commission put into practice a new rule that sought to replace the islands’ open air safari taxis with enclosed vans.  This 2009 mandate created a “moratorium on licensing new safari taxis built by island fabricators and installed on ‘incomplete’ truck frames imported from the U.S. unless the so-called ‘after-market’ fabrication is certified as meeting federal standards for operation, according to the St. John Tradewinds News.

Well it seems that there aren’t any after-market fabricators in the territory who can certify a finished safari. So what does that mean? It essentially means that as it stands now, no new safari-style taxis will be made. And once the current safari-style taxis run their course, they will be replaced with enclosed vans.

Not cool.

Seriously, could you imagine riding around the island in an enclosed van? Neither can I.

So what can you do about it? Well our friends over at Active St. John created a petition and they’d like you all to sign it. Here’s a sample of what they had to say about it:

Does anyone think its good for tourism and residents of the Virgin Islands to replace the Safari Taxis with passenger vans? Does anyone want to have to get in/out of a single van door in traffic as we drive on the left and the vans passenger doors are on the right? 

How is this remotely safer? How could it be possible there are federal standards for operation for these Safaris? Can anyone imagine riding down a freeway in the states with a fully loaded Safari at 60mph and not getting arrested? The Safaris are part of the VI and must stay in the VI. Can anyone remember a Safari having a safety issue due to not having a federally-certified welder constructing these amazing vehicles? The sooner this gets repealed, the better … only you can make the difference to the VI’s future!

Interested in signing the petition? Click here to read it in its entirety and to sign it.

Virgin Islands photog swims with the fishes

Simonsen_turtle The Virgin Island's Steve Simonsen has made an international reputation for himself specializing in marine photography

The St. John resident's underwater images of divers, coral reefs, and fish have been published in magazines including Caribbean Travel & Life, Scuba Diving and Sport Diver.  His work is also on display in his book, Living Art.

Recently, Simonsen's been drawn to video projects, one of which will be shown in rough cut at the Marketplace Thursday night.  He will talk about the experience of making the film "Leatherbacks of St. Croix."

Livingartt The documentary focuses on the conservation of Leatherback sea turtles at Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge on St Croix. Working alongside members of the Fish and Wildlife Service and The West Indies Marine Animal Research and Conservation Service, Steve hopes the film will help raise awareness of the endangered creatures to help protect, recover and sustain the threatened and endangered marine animals of the West Indies.

Leatherbacks is one of two projects being shown at St. John Film Society's Free Movie Night Thursday.  The other chronicles diminishing 'spawning schools' in the VI's. Fishermen are struggling to preserve their livelihoods, and scientists from the University of the Virgin Islands are racing to understand how to restore and maintain fish populations across the Caribbean.

Unrest at the Westin

WestinA number of Westin Virgin Grand Villa owners are unhappy. And they're looking for other owners to join them in challenging management.

In a phone call to NewsofStJohn.com, one owner charged that some of the costs of adding dozens of new units to the project have been passed on to existing owners without their approval.

Gene Jaspan, in ad advertisement in the Tradewinds, said,"We are villa owners who want to prevent Starwood from making more costly changes without required owner consent."

"We also want to revise the by-laws, which give Starwood complete control of the Board of the owners’ association until the very last unit is sold. And we want to elect independent owner representatives to that Board."

However, he charged, Starwood will not give the dissidents the names of other owners so he can contact them to solicit their support. "If you are interested in obtaining more information or participating, please email … [email protected]."

Villa inventory climbs, prices hold

After a two-week decline in available homes on the Multiple Listing Service, the number of villas for sale is again headed into record territory.

In late March, the MLS showed 141 properties available, a decrease from the 150 mark reached earlier in the month.  In the last three weeks, the number of listings has risen higher to 148.

But despite the growing inventory, there are few signs of fire sales.  The average asking price for a home is $2.2 million, compared with $2.16 million in January.  If you remove a Peter Bay property that's been on the market for six months or more, priced at $32 million, the average drops to $2 million.

The median price of homes for sale now is $1.5 million, compared to $1.375 million in January.

The best things on the restaurant menu

“Pieces of Ate” is a newly-launched feature of the St. John Sun Times.  It highlights the hits on the menus at bars and various restaurants. 

Recently, Asolare’s Moonbowtini was in the spotlight. “Choose your favorite vodka.  Watch while the bartender adds grapefruit juice and rosemary syrup.  Step Three: Enjoy responsibly.” Asolare’s web site is http://stjohn-restaurants.com/asolare.php

La Tapa’s Three Sauce Plate also got kudos.  Relying on the fact that La Tapa produces its own crunchy, baguettes, you dip the bread in one (or all) of the sauces.  They include green peppercorn and arugula aioli, sun-dried tomato aioli, and tropical fruit salsa.  La Tapa’s Web site is http://www.latapastjohn.com/

Read the St. John Sun Times column at http://www.stjohnsuntimes.com/pieces_of_ate.

What about you?  'Best things on the Menu" you'd like to mention?  Comment here.

Blues Festival lineup announced

Bluesfest The 8th annual St. John Blues Festival is scheduled March 17-21.  This year, the name sponsor is Johnnie Walker.  Other supporters include First Bank, Holiday Homes, and the USVI Department of Tourism.

Organizer and founder (he really is a busy guy) Steve Simon and his wife, Helen,
will offer six-days of music from one end of the island to the other.
The ‘big show’ will, as usual be in Coral Bay on Saturday night.  But
during the week, you can count on Festival performers offering free
live music at venues like the Beach Bar, Shipwreck Landing, and the ball field in Cruz Bay.

Simon has a lineup of artists including Deanna Bogart, JT Laureitsen, the Ford Blues Band, and  E,G. Knight.  See the full list at http://www.stjohnbluesfestival.com/new/schedule2010.htm#schedule.

Simon,
who’s also produced and performed in blues shows in Iraq and Saudi
Arabia said this is the biggest thing he’s ever done.  And, he
promised, it will rock.

The Blues Festival’s Web site is at http://www.stjohnbluesfestival.com/bf/blueshome.htm.

VIs’ $6 Million ad campaign

Viad An ad agency’s multi-million dollar idea for U.S. Virgin Islands Tourism is now on display.  In ads produced by Atlanta’s JWT
advertising agency, the slogan, “You, Unscripted” has begun appear in
TV spots and print ads. It is meant to stress that visitors can create
their own unique experiences in the VI's.

Tourism said it will spend  $6 million to spread the campaign, using television, magazines, newspaper and Internet for media. 

You can see examples of the print ads and the 30-second TV spots at http://www.usvimarketing.com/.
The ads will target a range of market segments including: Bridal and
Romance, African American, Dive, Culture & Heritage, Sailing &
Yachting and Meetings & Incentives.

“The concept of offering
travelers an unscripted vacation experience was conceived through
research that revealed our potential visitors seek the freedom to
indulge in a personalized vacation experience," said Commissioner of
Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty.

How you can save Maho Bay

Maho

The Trust for Public Land is asking for donations to help acquire the Maho Bay Camps real estate.  While the Trust has been in negotiations with owners of the land who lease it to the Camps, the Trust doesn’t yet have all the funds that will  be needed. The land is already on the market.

Stanley Selengut, the genius/entrepreneur/good green guy who created the Camps has told Conde Nast Traveler that when the lease expires in 2012, “One of three things will happen: A developer will subdivide his Shangri-la, or a luxury hotel chain will drop anchor there, or a deus ex machina—a land trust or an Oprah—will step forward with cash in hand to buy and then donate the land to the national park.”

The Trust for Public Land hopes the third option will occur.  John Garrison, the local field office director for TPL, said the fund he wants to create will be used for land appraisals as well a purchase.  He told the Virgin Islands Daily News, “There’s no guarantees, but we’ll give it our best shot.”

To contribute, send checks to TPL’s Maho Bay Campaign, 116 Montgomery St., 4th floor, San Francisco, Ca. 94105.

Court blocks VI try for property taxes

Court_seal If you own property on St. John, you may have thought you'd have a Virgin Islands tax bill to pay next month. 

It appears you can fuggetabout it.

A federal appeals court has rejected the Virgin Islands government’s renewed effort to collect property taxes from 2006. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against arguments from the Governor and the Tax Assessor finding the VIs have failed to obey orders to reform the property tax assessment system, specifically to offer a fair and timely process for tax appeals.

The Appeals Court said it agreed with the District Court that there was little evidence “to suggest that the Board of Tax Review is maintaining reliable records“ and that “certain good faith attempts” to establish an appeals system is not enough.

“In other words, procedural due process requires at a minimum that the taxpayer have both notice of the appeal and the right to participate,” the Court said. It found that process lacking.

Last fall, the District Court held the Virgin Islands in contempt for issuing tax bills without getting court approval of a new tax assessment system.  The government appealed the contempt order and, earlier this year, demanded payment of the previously-sent bills be made next month.

James Derr, a St. Thomas attorney for plaintiffs successfully arguing to block the government, said the Appeals Court decision was clear. As you can see, we won on all points.”

He wrote in an e-mail, "This means that both the contempt and the order to recall the 2006 bills are back in place." He added, "It should be interesting to see what the Government does now.”

St. John-based VI Unity Day Group hailed the Appeals Court decision.  A founder of the group, Coral Bay's Loreli Monsanto, told The Inquiring Iguana, "We're all winners on this one.  Now we'rt waiting for the Governor's next move."

Gov. John deJongh had no immediate comment on the decision
against his administration. In fact, there was nothing at all on his
Web site. It was a blank page at http://www.governordejongh.com/.

Pond Bay scales back a smidge

Pbay Developers of the Pond Bay Club have been given permission to downsize its plans for a restaurant on the site as well as repositioning some buildings and educing their size, according to a report by the St. John Source

The St. John Coastal Management Committee okayed requests for the changes by First American development Group/Carib Limited Partnership.  Pond Bay also changed its plan for supplying water to the facility.  Instead of tapping a line from the VI Water and Power Authority, First American wants to drill some test wells to determine if they can  supply the resort's needs.

The construction changes, the Source said, include reducing the restaurant building from two stories to one.

And speaking of construction, this is a photo update of the project, as posted on the blog, St. John Talk.