Senators back St. Croix theme park plan
Published: August 21, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The Senate Rules Committee on Monday gave a green light to a bill that would seek proposals to build a theme park on St. Croix.
It was one of one of eight bills the committee passed along for full Senate consideration during today and Wednesday's legislative session.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly spoke on behalf of the theme park bill, which she co-sponsored, but declined to take credit for it. She said the idea came from a 2003 V.I. Port Authority study that was forgotten after cruise ships stopped calling on St. Croix.
"We're seeking to resurrect it," Rivera-O'Reilly said. "Hopefully this will provide the island of St. Croix with an opportunity for employment and perhaps create some interest on the island of St. Croix for developers to finally come forward and fund some of the hotel projects that have been on the back burner."
The bill first appeared last month before a session of the Senate's Economic Development, Technology and Agriculture Committee that lacked a quorum. In its form at that time, the legislation would have authorized the V.I. Public Finance Authority to solicit proposals for development and construction of "a water and adventure park."
Though that committee could not vote on the bill because of the committee's lack of a quorum, several amendments were suggested. They included changing the park's name to "the St. Croix Cultural, Historical and Ecological Adventure Park" and directing some agency other than the V.I. Public Finance Authority to solicit the proposals because it is a financial entity, not a development arm of the government.
The bill the Rules Committee approved Monday incorporates the name change and directs the V.I. Property and Procurement Department, the V.I. Economic Development Authority and the V.I. Tourism Department to solicit the proposals. The bill requires the solicitation process to be completed within six months and suggests that it include "opportunities for private-public partnership," potentially including the issuance of private activity bonds through the Public Finance Authority.
Sen. Celestino White Sr. voiced strong support of the measure and suggested that whatever solicitations are issued, they contain a "need not apply" warning to the proposed developers of a St. Croix sports complex exposed by a Daily News report in June.
"We're not asking for fly-by-night, hanky-panky individuals," he said. "We're looking for up-and-up people who have their own money."
Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Usie Richards and Senators Sammuel Sanes, Ronald Russell, Patrick Simeon Sprauve, Carlton Dowe and White voted to pass the bill to the full Senate. Sen. Alicia Hansen was absent.
The committee also granted unopposed approval to two bills dealing with prisons in the territory. One would classify mobile phones, laptops and other electronic communication devices as "dangerous prison contraband." The other would criminalize sexual relations between prison employees and inmates or detainees.
Last month, some senators raised concerns that the bills address policy issues that should be handled by the agency in charge rather than through legislation.
After the contraband measure passed, V.I. Corrections Bureau Director Julius Wilson, under questioning from the senators, said he had not fully investigated any cases of prison employees and inmates engaging in sexual relations, but many suspected cases have ended with the employee in question resigning.
"I haven't been able to chase any of that down, but it affects your morale," Wilson said. "It affects how other agencies look at you, how the community looks at you."
Dowe asked whether the Senate "should be legislating morality," and Russell said sex between prison employees and inmates would be "very tough to criminalize for me."
"I think you just need to be a lot more cognizant of the people you hire, and fire them when you find out," Russell said. "If the two of them want to have sex, who's that hurting?"
V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer, who also was invited to testify, said such relationships can compromise the security of the entire facility.
Wilson added another point about employee productivity.
"If you are at work and you are having sex, you're not working," Wilson said. "You're not watching inmates, and that's what the community is paying you to do."
Other items passed through the Rules Committee on Monday included:
- A bill that would amend the Motorcycle Safety Education Act of 2009 by adjusting fees and changing the requirement for the V.I. Motor Vehicles Bureau to approve helmets and other safety gear sold for use while operating a motorcycle.
- A bill that would provide an exemption to the noise pollution control law for Festival and other local holiday activities and cultural festivities.
- A bill that would regulate - and provide tax incentives to - international banking centers with operations in the territory.
- A bill that would require a government-wide review of voice, data and Internet contracts.
- A bill that would appropriate $150,000 from the Fish and Game Fund to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to develop a strategy to control the populations of lionfish and other invasive aquatic species.
- The nomination of LaVerne Ragster to serve on the V.I. Waste Management Authority Board.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.