Virgin Islands News

Savan Revitalization in Full Swing

This week crews from the Department of Public Works took the first steps to bring a once-vibrant St. Thomas community back to life.
As part of a project headed up by the Economic Development Authority, workers began boarding up abandoned homes in Savan on Monday.
Five homes that have fallen into disrepair are slated to be cleaned out and boarded up.

U.S. Virgin Islands Untouched by BP Oil Spill - Shout It From the Rooftops

Right now, in the middle of summer break from school, a multitude of beaches in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are contaminated with hazardous crude oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, while the U.S. Virgin Islands' beaches remain pristine. Pictures of oil-soaked, dying pelicans along the Gulf Coast are nightly news fodder, while a stroll along the beach in Frederiksted on any given afternoon will turn up a dozen or more big, healthy pelicans fishing in the surf and roosting in shore-side trees.

Is the Department of Tourism or one of the territory's two hotel and tourism associations using our distance from the spill as a selling point? And is it appropriate or a good idea for the territory to emphasize that St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John still have pristine, oil-free beaches and crystal clear water as a way draw some more visitors?

Tourism officials were wary of discussing the matter, apparently feeling it may seem crass or insensitive to take advantage of the catastrophe. And no V.I. ads make any direct mention of the spill. At the most recent meeting of the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association, the group's president Lisa Hamilton said the question had come up among members and she cautiously approached Tourism. They looked over their ads and decided to make no changes in response.

"The existing ads do highlight our beautiful beaches," Hamilton said. "So we are not saying 'hey look, we don't have oil,' but we are showing we have beautiful beaches and those ads are playing right now on CNN."

Why is there so much caution and circumspection? Well, it could seem heartless, depending on how it is handled. After all, day after day for three months now, images of blobs of tar floating in yellow-brown surf crashing on Gulf Coast beaches have filled the nation's television screens, evidence of the impact of the worst oil spill and worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The environmental and economic impacts are gigantic. Fisheries are closed indefinitely, jobs are being lost, breeding grounds ruined. And during the peak of the nation's beach vacation season, the oil is driving away visitors in droves, sucking away hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars in tourist revenues from a region already hurting economically. No one wants to rub salt into the wounds of Gulf Coast residents.

Also handling it wrong can and already has created a backlash. Spirit Airlines put out ads for Cancun, Atlantic City and other destinations, saying "check out the oil on our beaches," featuring attractive women slathered in suntan oil. TV news shows, blogs and major newspapers all highlighted the ad, either condemning the ad as tasteless or asking various experts if they thought it was crass. After the tut-tutting in the national media, Spirit Airlines pulled the ads.

But is it actually heartless to use our clear water and clean beaches as a selling point when so many beaches are contaminated? Not if it isn't done in a heartless way, I say. Tens of millions of Americans visit the Gulf Coast beaches every summer. This year, many of those are making other plans. They are going somewhere. If we attract a few of those folks to the U.S. Virgin Islands, we are not stealing them away, just rescuing their summer vacation. And because the U.S. Virgin Islands is small, even a tiny slice of that market could mean a substantial increase in hotel and restaurant business.

True, the Spirit Airlines ad comes across as insensitive and crass - because it makes a salacious joke about the spill. And it produced a backlash. Yet simply making a direct, dry statement about how ocean currents will not bring the oil here, combined with photos of crystal clear seas would hardly be offensive, especially if accompanied by some expression of sympathy.

Oh, and that offensive Spirit ad-it brought in major media attention, giving the company and the ad far more exposure than it would have had. The controversy has not hurt the airline's bookings or bottom line one bit.

So push the territory's oil-free beaches. Let the world know the U.S. Virgin Islands has crystal clear water where you can swim with healthy, happy sea turtles and stroll on clean beaches while pelicans swoop and fish nearby.

Berry Remembered as a "Champion of All Virgin Islanders"

Lorraine L. Berry at the 2007 Bastille Day observance. Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. on Tuesday ordered that flags on all public buildings in the territory be lowered to half-staff in memory of former St. Thomas/St. John district Sen. Lorraine L. Berry, who died late Monday night from complications of colon cancer.

"It is a fitting tribute to this giant of a woman,” de Jongh said, adding that the flags will remain at half-staff until sunset on the day of her interment.

The territory reacted with a mixture of shock and sadness Tuesday in the wake of news of the death of the political icon – shock, because in the eyes of many, she was one of those personalities so much a part of the local fabric it's hard to imagine it without her imprint; sad, because of the genuine caring and help she brought to so many in the community.

Tributes, some short and sweet, some from high office, some from afar, flowed in throughout the day.

The overwhelming sentiment spoke of Berry's steadfast adherence to the courage of her convictions, her leadership, political savvy and commitment to the community.

"Sen. Berry showed us how to fight our battles with dignity and to stand for what you believed in. Her life reflects her commitment to the Virgin Islands and its progress," Lt. Governor Gregory Francis said.

The governor said, "With the death of Sen. Berry, we have lost a major figure of Virgin Islands politics. Our history will long remember Sen. Berry’s 12 terms as a senator, two as president of the Legislature, during which she was a steady champion of all Virgin Islanders."

The governor said Berry "understood clearly the connections between a strong private sector and the revenues a growing economy could deliver, and the stability of government to provide services to our people. Hers was a true life of public service."

De jongh added, "Sen. Berry's work in advancing the rights and protections of women and children was a hallmark of her long career. Additionally, she initiated and encouraged many of the efforts to preserve and celebrate French Heritage here in the Virgin Islands."

He said he, his wife Cecile and all the people of the Virgin Islands express condolences to Berry's husband Richard, her daughter Roxanne, her son Kurt and members of her extended family.

Catherine Bryan, now chief of staff for Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve, remembers Berry's kindness.

"I'd just come back from college," Bryan said, "just a young kid who didn't know anything. I decided I'd better put my political science degree to use, so I went to Sen. Berry's office. James Francis, her chief of staff, introduced me, and she gave me a shot at assistant researcher.

"I was so appreciative to learn from such a political great," Bryan said. "I worked for her until she stepped down for her gubernatorial run. We've remained close, and she always calls to give me advice. She's remained active helping the community, particularly young women. I will really miss her."

Delegate Donna M. Christensen said she had a chance to visit with Berry about 10 days ago.

"Even as she battled serious illness," Christensen said, "Sen. Berry was as politically involved as ever. Her commitment to the people never wavered."

She said, "The Virgin Islands has lost an outstanding leader, a woman who was respected for her political savvy, her involvement and her unwavering commitment to the people of the Virgin Islands and their advancement."

"Whether you were on the same or opposite side of an issue with Sen. Berry, her professionalism, insights and demeanor always commanded the utmost respect. It was an honor I will always treasure to have been given the opportunity to call her colleague and friend," the delegate said.

Former Delegate to Congress Ron DeLugo expressed shock at the news. Speaking from the states, he said, "She had such courage. She displayed it as president of the Legislature. I admired Lorraine. She was ambitious, but she was also a very strong woman. She could hold various groups together, which is so important for a political leader."

Reminded of the advice he had given to the young Berry when she worked for him, DeLugo laughed. When Berry had announced she was going to quit her job to run for the Senate, DeLugo had wished her the best, but said she'd never win. "Nobody knows you," he had said. "Well, everybody knows her now," he said Tuesday.

Senate President Louis Hill said, "Senator Berry's ability to turn naysayer into supporters is the true meaning of leadership." He praised Berry's "voice of reason" which he said, "crossed all barriers to serve the entire V.I. community with pride, respect and kindness. She is a beacon to be held high and to be emulated."

James Francis was Berry's chief of staff for 20 years, which has to be a record for service in the Legislature. Always helpful to everyone, he emulates Berry's spirit. He, like other former staff, has remained close to the senator.

"I always admired her dedication to improving the lives of people in the territory through the efficient management of the government, to provide the services required so people have a decent living in jobs they like and for which they are qualified."

Working for Berry, James said could be demanding.

"She was the consummate politician," he said. "If you worked for her you had really had to work. There was always something going on for the community – outreach health fairs, youth symposiums, essay contests, adult symposiums, anything to enhance the lives of those in the community.

"She worked to see women participate in the political process on an equal basis with men," Francis said. "At one time, she was the only female senator. She wanted women, who are the biggest voting bloc, to take their rightful place."

Speaking for the Committee for the Betterment of Carenage, Jean Greaux, president, who has known Berry almost all his life, said, "The death of Lorraine Berry is a loss to not only the territory’s political landscape but a loss to the French community in the Virgin Islands. For the better part of the two decades Lorraine served in the halls of the Legislature and was a vibrant force in ensuring the preservation and promotion of French Heritage in the Virgin Islands."

Greaux said, "At the same time, Sen. Berry worked long and hard to ensure that the contributions of the French community were recognized in the wider Virgin Islands community. Lorraine will be missed but history will remember hers as truly a life of public service, a lifetime of dedication to all Virgin Islanders."

Speaking for the Frenchtown Civic Organization, Henry Richardson, who went to school with Berry, said, "We've always been very proud of Lorraine's accomplishments, not just in the French community, but she worked tirelessly for the entire territory. She really never stopped fighting for what she believed in."

Condolences came from former governors Juan Luis and Charles W. Turnbull carried historical overtones.

"Sen. Berry's legacy as a no-nonsense, fearless leader will endure the passage of time," Luis said.

Turnbull called her a "central figure in the political life of the territory, one who left an indelible mark on the pages of Virgin Islands history."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been released by the family.

Mortgage applications rise 7 pct. as rates fall

Applications for home loans rose last week as consumers raced to refinance at the lowest rates in decades.

The Mortgage Bankers Associations said Wednesday that overall applications increased nearly 7 percent from a week earlier. While they have been increasing in recent weeks, they remain below early 2009 levels.

DeJongh Administrations Joins in Challenge Against IRS

Aiming to reduce taxpayer uncertainty and strengthen economic development tax programs, the V.I. Government filed papers this week in a private case before U.S. Tax Court challenging Internal Revenue Service's refusal to recognize a statute of limitations for V.I. taxpayers.

Reverse Mortgages Now a Less-Costly Lifeline

As fees drop, some people tap reverse mortgages as a way to keep their homes.

Upfront fees on reverse mortgages have fallen substantially in recent months, giving homeowners interested in this product a new challenge: how to best compare offers to find the best one.

Mortgage rates drop to another low, 4.58 pct.

Average rates on 30-year fixed mortgages fall to 4.58 pct., lowest level since mid-1950s

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mortgage rates have sunk to the lowest level in more than five decades, but consumers aren't rushing to refinance their loans or buy homes.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the average rate for 30-year fixed loans sank to 4.58 percent this week.

That's down from the previous record of 4.69 percent set last week and the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971.

Emergency Management Center Opens

A new facility that unites three vitally important emergency management agencies was officially opened for business Thursday.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new emergency management center in Estate Nisky, Senate President Louis Hill said the area is now better protected in case of disaster.

“Our territory is significantly better prepared to coordinate and supervise the response and recovery of any hazard or disaster due to this state-of-the-art facility,”

PSC Adjusts LEAC Surcharges on Water, Electricity

PSC Chairman Joseph Boschulte (center) inquires about the LEAC surcharge, while PSC members Sirri Hamad (left) and Verne David (right) look on.The V.I. Public Services Commission voted Thursday to slightly reduce the hated Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause (LEAC) fuel surcharge on electric bills over the summer and increase the LEAC on water bills.

PSC Clears Choice Communications to Get Federal Dollars

The V.I. Public Services Commission voted to give Choice Communications status as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC), opening the way for the company to collect federal Universal Service Fund (USF) grants as it moves toward providing cell phone service in the territory.

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