Dowe: Port Authority still plans to demolish Bournefield units
Published: February 16, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - In spite of budgeting almost $100,000 for repairs to the Bournefield housing community's 42 units, the V.I. Port Authority maintains that its long-term plan is to see the buildings condemned, according to Port Authority Director Carlton Dowe.
Regarding how the Port Authority planned to renovate 42 units with only $100,000, Dowe said the Port Authority board could revisit the needed amount, but he was adamant that Bournefield would not drain the Port Authority's coffers.
Bournefield residents reacted with shock and dismay Friday after being informed by The Daily News of Dowe's most recent statements and said they felt betrayed by the authority's new director, who they said had once stood in solidarity with them against the Port Authority when he was a V.I. senator.
Residents had felt reassured that the Port Authority intended to rise above what some of them called a "slumlord" reputation it had garnered with respect to the houses.
After fighting eviction notices and publicly protesting the authority's move to demolish the buildings in Senate hearings two years ago, and after filing many work orders for basic upkeep, they took the repairs as a sign that the Port Authority intended to work with them on their plan to take over ownership.
However, Dowe said Friday the repairs undertaken Jan. 31 were temporary measures to make the units habitable while the Port Authority could draw up a suitable plan for relocating Bournefield's tenants.
"Yes, we want to condemn, but we are working feverishly to make sure that reasonable accommodations are made for all the residents," Dowe told The Daily News.
The Port Authority also would clean up the overgrown yards around the houses and remove abandoned cars. All repairs would be done in 90-day phases, covering 15 units each in each phase, but priority would be given to senior citizens and the most badly damaged units, according to a press release the Port Authority issued.
In meetings with tenants as recently as Jan. 23, Dowe had not informed them that the long-term plan still was the demolition of their homes, according to Josephine Lindquist, president of the Bournefield United Tenants Association.
"We're kind of shell-shocked at this point because of everything that has happened to us before," Lindquist said. "Why would you go to all the trouble of doing this if you are just going to tear it down?"
The boxy, concrete structures once housed military personnel and their families during World War II and sit on about 8 acres of the total 92 acres owned by the Port Authority across from King Airport.
In November 2010, the Port Authority issued eviction notices citing "health and safety issues," but tenants objected and called upon the support of senators Celestino White Sr., Alvin Williams Jr. and Dowe.
After trying to demolish three units without a permit and being publicly shamed by the V.I. Legislature for not providing the tenants with a relocation plan, the Port Authority's governing board backed off pursuing eviction in March 2011. The Senate also passed a bill saying that the Port Authority must present any eviction and relocation plan to the Legislature for approval.
That Dowe, who has been director of the Port Authority for only a month, would rescind his support for the tenants baffled Rivo Hodge, who has lived in Bournefield since 1974.
"I don't believe it's him doing it," Hodge said. "He was with us in solidarity in the Senate hearings."
Dowe declined to comment about his reversal on the issue of tearing the homes down, but he said he believed the Bournefield buildings ultimately are beyond saving and will be condemned eventually, even after the commissioned repairs.
"The structures are very dilapidated," Dowe said. "The structures are really bad. They are over 50 years old. When it rains heavily, they flood in many places."
As an example of how far gone the apartments are, Dowe said that the original "scope of work" for the two units contractors had been in since Jan. 31 did not include plumbing or electrical work, but the tearing down of Sheetrock revealed old, loose electrical wiring and corroded, leaking plumbing lines.
"Now, I have no choice but to go in there and do the electrical and plumbing work," Dowe said.
Regarding whether the authority would expand its budget for repairs if further work rendered the allocated $99,856 inadequate to bring all units up to a livable condition, Dowe said the board of directors could reconsider the budget if needed.
However, he asserted that he would not let costs skyrocket.
"We are not going to spend $1 million, $2 million, $3 million dollars on Bournefield. We are not going to do that," Dowe said.
Lindquist said the Port Authority's long-standing neglect of the buildings almost certainly will drive up the cost of repairs.
She said she was disappointed when she saw that most of the work orders only call for superficial repairs to Sheetrock, tiles, windows and doors.
She provided The Daily News with a 2011 report of a Visual Inspection by Gregory Miller of BGM Engineers & Surveyors.
The report does not state that the buildings are condemnable.
Instead, it states that 20 of the units had electrical problems including "missing light fixtures, missing receptacles, lack of ground fault interrupters around sinks, and severely overloaded systems."
The report also states that 20 units had kitchen plumbing problems, and 19 units had bathroom plumbing problems.
- Contact reporter Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.