Published: June 9, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Under cover of darkness early Friday morning, a dump truck filled with valuable mahogany wood from the felled trees in Havensight was stolen.
V.I. Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said the wood was supposed to be taken to a secured, locked location monitored by surveillance cameras. He said the wood is V.I. government property and is earmarked for use by nonprofits and the government.
Instead, it was taken to the back of a dark parking lot in Bolongo Bay and transferred to a private vehicle.
The theft was witnessed by The Daily News Executive Editor J. Lowe Davis, who documented it with photos.
Davis was leaving work about 1 a.m. after Friday's edition had gone to press and had to pass through Havensight on her way home. She was stopped by the road crew that was in the process of cutting down two huge mahogany trees in front of the Port of Sale mall. As she was waiting, a big orange and white dump truck pulled out from the construction site and passed in front of her vehicle.
Then, the flagger waved her on, and she followed the dump truck up the hill on Frenchman's Bay road.
At first, she did not think anything unusual was happening.
"I was thinking, 'Huh, he must be full of broken-up asphalt from the road and is taking it to the landfill,' " she said. "Then, when we got to the bottom of Donkey Hill, I could see into the back of the truck, and I saw leaves and tree limbs sticking up. I thought, 'That's odd.' "
The dump truck turned right, into the parking lot at Bolongo Bay Resort and backed up into a dark corner in the rear of the lot. Davis said she saw a pickup with a cargo trailer parked at the entrance of the parking lot.
"The dump truck stopped and was talking to the guy, and there were tree limbs in the back of the trailer," Davis said.
"I asked the pickup truck guy, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'You taking the wood?' He said, 'Yeah. They're cutting trees at Havensight, and they're giving the wood away,'" Davis said.
She took a picture of his license plate, which angered the pickup driver, and he approached her in a threatening manner, yelling and standing only inches away.
Davis left, but she did not leave the area. She simply circled back and parked in the same parking lot, turning off her lights. From her location, she could see both trucks, although in the dark, she could not see exactly what was happening.
"I couldn't see what they were doing, but I could hear that they were unloading heavy stuff," Davis said.
Soon after, the dump truck pulled out of the Bolongo parking lot, and Davis followed him. The truck returned to the Havensight construction scene, where workers were cutting down the next mahogany tree.
"I stayed there for nearly three hours to watch the cutting of the tree and to see what was going to happen to the wood," Davis said.
She left when the workers were still cutting the tree into chunks, and did not see anyone take any more wood.
During the incident, Davis called 911 three times: once at Bolongo; once on Donkey Hill when she was following the dump truck back to Havensight; and a third time when she reached Havensight again. She never saw a police officer respond to her call.
V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Christine Lett said 911 dispatchers received a call from Bolongo at 1:20 a.m. Friday, and police were dispatched to the scene at 1:24 a.m.
At 1:51 a.m., officers reported to dispatch that they inspected the "Bolongo Bay shoreline" and did not find any suspicious activity, Lett said.
Davis' 911 call was deemed unfounded.
"My question is: Who's responsible for protecting the wood from theft, and who is this that got the wood?" she said.
Work began last week
Work began on the third phase of the Long Bay Road expansion project last week. The third phase will widen Frenchman's Bay Road from two lanes to four.
Last week, residents concerned about the fate of the mahogany trees, some of which had been marked with an "x" in red spray paint, held a protest.
Since then, four trees have been removed along with guardrails and some metal gates at the havensight entrance, and temporary fencing has been erected. Smalls has said no more than five trees will be taken down to make way for the new four-lane road. He was alarmed to hear about the theft Friday.
Wednesday evening, another Daily News employee saw a Jeep Wrangler leaving the Port of Sale area with two big palm trees that had been dug up as part of the road work. The possible theft was reported to Smalls, who said he would look into it.
Friday, Smalls was alarmed to hear about the theft of the mahogany wood.
"If that is true, that is theft," he said.
He asked The Daily News to turn over any photos or information on the vehicles and people involved so he can pursue the crime.
"I will take it to the fullest extent of the law," he said.
Under the contract for the road work - phase three of the Long Bay Road expansion project - the contractor has specific instructions for handling the wood, according to Smalls. The contractor for the project is V.I. Paving, and the contract is between V.I. Paving and Eastern Federal Lands in conjunction with Public Works. Eastern Federal Lands is a federal entity under the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration and is charged with monitoring and managing federal road projects.
The contract dictates that only the individual mahogany trees designated in the plans are to be removed. Smalls said no more than five trees will be taken down for this phase of the project. So far, four have been removed.
"All removed mahogany trees are the property of the Gov of VI. Carefully remove the designated mahogany trees so that the wood remains in useable condition. Cut mahogany tree trunks and branches that are 8" in diameter or larger into the longest section that can still be transported," the contract states.
The cut trees must be delivered to a designated Public Works storage site, according to the contract. Smalls said he does not want to disclose the site for security reasons.
"It's at an undisclosed location on government property," he said.
After the palm tree theft was reported, Smalls visited the site himself on Thursday night and made arrangement for any plants to be taken to a secure location, he told The Daily News on Friday.
When he was told about the mahogany wood theft, Smalls said, he briefed his staff and the federal project manager.
"I put them on notice that we need to be extra vigilant," he said.
V.I. Paving was contacted and informed that Public Works expects them to follow the contract, and thefts will not be tolerated, Smalls said.
"We have stepped up our diligence on this entire project to maintain its integrity," Smalls said.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com. ST. THOMAS - The Long Bay Road expansion project is designed to loosen traffic congestion in the Havensight and Long Bay area.
The heavy traffic is largely blamed on taxis picking up and dropping off cruise ship passengers from the West Indian Co. dock.
During the first and second phases of the project, a side road was built to allow taxis to leave the WICO dock and drive out a back exit that connects to Long Bay Road beside Wendy's Restaurant.
WICO President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boschulte said the gate will be used as needed, particularly on busy cruise ship days.
"There are no outstanding issues with Homeland Security right now to use the gate adjacent to Wendy's," Boschulte said.
He said WICO is in communication with Public Works, contractor V.I. Paving, and project manager Eastern Federal Lands, as well as with the taxi association and the Havensight Mall tenants about the upcoming third phase of the Long Bay project.
"We just got a schedule, and we are trying to work around days when the cruise ships are in," he said.
Boschulte said the taxis leaving the dock can only use the back gate if they plan to turn left onto Long Bay Road and drive towards town. Taxis heading east will leave from the main entrance to Havensight Mall and the WICO dock, he said.
The first phase of the Long Bay Road project began in March 2008, with improvements to drainage and the widening of Centerline Road from Mandela Circle to Lockhart Gardens at a cost of $13 million.
The second phase of the project - which expanded Long Bay Road from Mandela Circle to the intersection with Veterans Drive and Lovers Lane - cost $5.6 million and was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The third and final phase of work will cost about $6.8 million in Federal Highway Administration funds and take about 18 months to complete.
Once finished, the Frenchman's Bay Road section will be expanded to four lanes. Sidewalks will line the road on both sides, and a traffic light will be added at the southernmost entrance to Havensight Mall.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.