« January 2005 | Main | March 2005 »

February 24, 2005

It just doesn't make any sense...

There are a lot of ways to look at a lot of things in this world. One simple rule is known as the "smell test". This story just doesn't pass it, and the Lt. Governor should come clean:

Dollar figures in Eagle deal are trade secret, Richards says
By TIM FIELDS
Wednesday, February 23rd 2005

ST. THOMAS - Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards reiterated Tuesday that the pricing structure used by American Eagle in a government contract to add flights between St. Thomas and St. Croix is a trade secret and cannot be divulged to the public under V.I. law.

"We must obey our own laws, shouldn't we?" Richards said at a press conference at his office on St. Thomas.

Senate President Lorraine Berry said Richards is using "trade secret" as an excuse in order to shift the emphasis from what is at stake - that the public will be paying for it.

In December, the V.I. government entered into a contract with American Eagle, doing business as Executive Airlines, that guarantees the company a minimum amount of revenue for flying three daily round-trips between St. Thomas and St. Croix from Jan. 2 to May 1. If that level is not met, the territory has agreed to pay the difference.

Click here for the rest

Posted by afinta at 09:55 AM

February 22, 2005

'Formula' grant cuts would hit V.I. education programs hard

From the Daily News:

President Bush's proposed cuts to federal education would hit the Virgin Islands significantly harder than the nation as a whole because his plan mostly cuts "formula" grants, which form the bulk of the territory's allocation, a federal official said last week.

This is terrible news. The territory needs all the help - and money - it can get in the education department.

Posted by afinta at 10:31 AM

February 18, 2005

Former Saks Fifth Avenue Veteran Joins Island Capital Group; Affluent Lifestyle Destination Concept to Launch in U.S. Virgin Islands

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 16, 2005--Island Capital Group, LLC today announced that it has named former Saks Fifth Avenue marketing veteran Sheri Wilson-Gray to build the brand essence of its Yacht Haven initiative, a new lifestyle destination concept designed for the affluent customer drawn to the boating lifestyle.

Plans are underway for the first Yacht Haven in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands (USVI), where a world-class mega-yacht marina will be enriched by an upscale destination center including shopping, dining, entertainment and leisure activities for tourists, yacht owners and residents alike. The facility is directly adjacent to one of the busiest cruise-ship destination ports in the western hemisphere, where almost two million passengers per year come to visit.

"The St. Thomas location is the ideal site to launch our Yacht Haven concept due to its unique location at the very nexus of land, air and water transportation for the entire eastern Caribbean," said Andrew Farkas, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Island Capital Group. "The strength of the yachting industry, together with an explosive growth in the mega yacht segment have created an opportunity to build a new lifestyle model around luxury marinas," said Mr. Farkas. Prior to forming Island Capital, Mr. Farkas was the founder, Chairman and Chief Executive of Insignia Financial Group, one of the world's largest real estate services companies that was merged with CB Richard Ellis in 2003.

Sheri Wilson-Gray, former Chief Marketing Officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, will create the core attributes of the Yacht Haven brand. With extensive expertise in building world-class brands, Ms. Wilson-Gray has joined as Executive Vice President and will direct all sales and leasing opportunities to ensure the right selection of stores, entertainment, and accommodations to meet this affluent consumer's needs.

Phase 1 of the Yacht Haven project is scheduled for completion during the first quarter in 2006 and will include approximately 80,000 sq ft high-end retail, 31,000 sq ft office, four waterfront restaurants and an exclusive private yacht club. Twelve luxury condominiums and a variety of marina services are also scheduled during phase 1. Ultimately, the Yacht Haven project will include a conference center, additional high-end retail and a 70-room boutique hotel.

"This is a new twist on the lifestyle destination concept driven by the need for new luxury experiences," said Ms. Wilson-Gray, who will report to Elie Finegold, President of the Yacht Haven project. "I am excited to build this concept with such an accomplished group of real estate professionals."

"We are thrilled to have attracted a seasoned veteran like Sheri with a track record of building strong relationships with luxury brands," said Mr. Finegold. "Sheri has an intimate understanding of this affluent consumer's wants and needs, which will be instrumental in the development of the Yacht Haven concepts."

About Island Capital Group, LLC

Island Capital Group, LLC is a real estate merchant banking firm specializing in real estate development, real estate securities and securitization. The company owns various interests in real estate and real estate securities with an aggregate capitalization in excess of $1 billion. The Company is developing luxury marinas in key locations around the world that will include commercial, entertainment and leisure activities for tourists, yacht owners and residents alike. The Yacht Haven project has been financed by a group of prominent investors led by Andrew Farkas.

Posted by afinta at 11:09 AM

Legends abound on Buddhoe's role in 1848 uprising and emancipation

ST. CROIX - Much of what has been written about Moses "Buddhoe" Gottlieb, the free black who led the 1848 slave rebellion on St. Croix, is shrouded in controversy, but historians agree the Emancipation Proclamation that followed stands as a seminal point in Virgin Islands history.

According to historical accounts, the uprising by St. Croix slaves, particularly on the western end of the island, began on the evening of July 2, 1848, with hundreds of slaves assembling outside Fort Frederik, Frederiksted. The slaves declared they would not be working the next day and shouted for their freedom.

By the next morning thousands of slaves had gathered. Some 2,000 of them marched into Frederiksted from the northwest and north coast estates, joining others from Ham's Bluff and other estates along Centerline Road. According to historical accounts, by 10 a.m. about 8,000 slaves had gathered in front of the fort demanding their freedom.

Click here for the whole story.

Posted by afinta at 11:07 AM

February 11, 2005

Jeffrey Prosser Strikes Again!

From the AP:

Belize Seizes Telephone Company From U.S

Belize has seized control of a telecommunications company that it sold to a U.S. Virgin Islands firm last year, saying the private firm has failed to pay for controlling shares, the Belize government said Friday.

St. Croix-based Innovative Communication Corp, LLC has not paid $57 million for a 52.5 percent stake in Belize Telecommunications, Belize Prime Minister Said Musa said in a written statement.

The Belize government, which signed the deal with Innovative in March, is now offering to sell the shares to local investors, Musa said. Belize officials declined to comment further.

Belize Telecommunications provides about 108,000 fixed phones and cellular lines in Belize, making it the Central American country's biggest provider.

Lanny Davis, a lawyer for the St. Croix company, acknowledged Innovative did not make the payments but did not explain why. He said the company has invested or assumed obligations amounting to more than $75 million, expanding and improving services throughout Belize.

Davis said Innovative would try to reach an agreement with the Belize government to keep control of the company, however.

Belize government's actions "have no legal basis ... and are contrary to corporate governance rules," he said.

Innovative also owns companies controlling a media network that includes Innovative Telephone, Innovative Cable TV, and The Daily News newspaper in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The company employees 660 people in the U.S. Virgin Islands and provides telephone service to more than 73,000 people.

Posted by afinta at 10:29 PM

February 09, 2005

 Film to focus on Denmark's colonial past in V.I. By AESHA DUVAL

From the Daily News:

ST. CROIX - A documentary film on the shared history of Denmark and the Virgin Islands is in the works, and local historians and experts are expected to play a major role in providing content for the film.

Dutch filmmaker and screenwriter Anker Li is on St. Croix to scout filming locations, conduct research and compile a list of V.I. history experts to interview for the film.

Li said the documentary will tell the story of Denmark's colonial past from the Virgin Islander's point of view and explore the effects of slavery and colonization on the Danish West Indies. The Virgin Islands and Denmark share more than 180 years of history; the islands were under Denmark's rule from 1733 to 1917.

Until now, Li said, most historical accounts of St. Croix and Dutch influences have been based on European views and may have left out details about what life was like for slaves.

"I saw the value of a documentary that relies on the voices and the viewpoints of the Caribbean people," Li said Monday.

Li said the goal of the film will be to enhance the relationship and understanding between Dutch people and Virgin Islanders.

"Our hope is to bridge the past and the present between the Virgin Islands and Denmark," Li said. "In Denmark, much of this period of colonial ruling in the islands is very subdued and is not commonly taught in schools or mentioned in history books. The purpose of this is to bring back the knowledge of what happened in the past. If you are not aware of that, you are missing important tools that can guide you into the future."

One of Li's interviews will be with Shelley Moorhead, chairman and founder of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance.

The alliance is a diverse and broad-based group of international organizations that advocates reparations for crimes against Caribbean people.

The group sponsored round table discussions in November that were aimed at developing legislation to establish a commission to study the possibility of reparations for Virgin Islanders.

Moorhead said the group decided to hold the discussions after "looking at the deplorable state of our society and all the social ills that plague us - a result of slavery and colonization."

Click here for the rest

Posted by afinta at 10:45 PM

February 04, 2005

Lots of St. John real estate news

Our friend Frank Barnako has a run down on many recent happenings in the St. John real estate market. There is a new marina planned for Coral Bay, a new shopping center in Coral Bay (beginning to see a pattern here?), and a new housing development - in CORAL BAY! Hey, maybe it isn't too late to still buy real estate there. We have also heard via the coconut telegraph that there are plans for a second marina in... Coral Bay. You would think that a U.S. Customs check point, ferry service to the B.V.I. and more would follow... maybe they can stuff an airport out there somewhere?

Posted by afinta at 01:56 PM

V.I. anglers' outcry answered, restrictions eased

From the VI Daily News:

Local fishermen are calling last week's meeting of the Caribbean Fishery Management Council a preliminary victory in the battle over fishing regulations in federal waters surrounding the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The council had considered closing specific areas of the federal waters to all fishing, either all year or in certain months.

Among local fishermen, a bone of contention has been that the council used data from Puerto Rico in its draft document without considering 30 years of catch data from V.I. fishermen. The V.I. fishing industry relies on federal waters, which begin three miles offshore of the Virgin Islands, compared with nine miles off Puerto Rico shores.

Responding to those concerns, the council met last week in Puerto Rico and decided to recommend less-severe restrictions than those originally proposed.

"What we got was significant," said David Olsen, staff scientist for the St. Thomas Fishermen's Association, who attended the meeting in Puerto Rico.

Read the rest here

Posted by afinta at 11:01 AM

February 02, 2005

Here is an idiotic article -

From the Daily Californian comes this poorly researched article:


Pathogen of the Week: Ciguatera Fish Poisoning

By SHARON TANG-QUAN
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The next time you’re at a ritzy seafood restaurant in the Virgin Islands beware: you could be the victim of Ciguatera fish poisoning. Contaminated tropical reef fish have the ability to cause symptoms within a few minutes of digestion.

Dinoflagellates are the microscopic sea plants that produce the ciguatoxins that result in ciguatera poisoning. The toxicity increases as a large fish eats the small fish that ate the dinoflagellates, thus the large predatory tropical reef fish usually contain the highest concentrations of toxicity. (there's more...)

Anyway - where does something like this even come from? Have you ever known of a "ritzy" V.I. restaurant that serves reef fish? This is just such a stupid commentary I don't even know how to explain it. I scratch my head when people write stuff like this.

Posted by afinta at 09:46 AM | Comments (2)

Address draws mixed reaction from both critics and supporters By TIM FIELDS and MEGAN POINSKI

From the Daily News:

ST. THOMAS - While some senators said Gov. Charles Turnbull's 2005 State of the Territory speech painted an encouraging picture of the government's financial future, most said the governor failed to address chronic problems such as crime, education and procurement.

Senate President Lorraine Berry said, "The governor was upbeat in his outlook, but I think he should be tempered by the challenges before us."

Sen. Terrence Nelson said Turnbull's speech was "very promising" and he looks forward to the implementation of the governor's ideas, especially promises to help St. Croix.

"I hope the governor is really serious about what he said about addressing our problems with us in a holistic way," Nelson said. "I've heard the same things before. I want to make sure he's not just talking and that he will pursue these things in a realistic way."

Sen. Neville James said Turnbull gave a heartening speech, and agreed with Nelson on the need for action.

"He is looking ahead. We need to act instead of react," James said. "I look forward to seeing what the executive branch will have to offer."

Sen. Craig Barshinger said Turnbull gave a brilliant speech, but hoped his words were not empty.

"He was even inspirational," Barshinger said. "I hope this is a speech for more than tonight. I hope each and every day for the next two years he wakes up and makes this a reality."

One thing missing from the speech, Barshinger said, was misuse of public funds

Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone also said Turnbull should have mentioned problems with the procurement code.

"That is the center of much of the corruption," Malone said.

Malone said Turnbull gave an "honest" assessment of the state of the territory from increasing revenues to concerns about how new federal tax laws will affect the territory's Economic Development Commission tax-incentive program.

Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste criticized Turnbull's statement that raises for government employees will be considered only after he knows the fallout from changes to the tax laws, while money to fund the new Virgin Islands Supreme Court is a top priority.

Though many senators appreciated Turnbull's call to arms to save St. Croix, Jn Baptiste said it is too little, too late.

"He's been six years in that office and now he's saying St. Croix needs urgent attention. Has he been fast asleep?" he said.

Sen. Liston Davis also questioned Turnbull's sudden activism toward St. Croix.

"Now he said he's personally addressing the charge to bring more cruise ships to St. Croix. Is that a voice of no confidence in the Tourism commissioner?" Davis said.

Davis listed a number of topics Turnbull did not address, including the homeless, school repairs, road repairs, relocating Vendor's Plaza on St. Thomas, improving mass transit and reducing traffic. Turnbull mentioned crime, Davis said, but offered no solutions for fighting it.

Sen. Pedro Encarnacion agreed that action is needed to fight crime.

"He indicated that you can see progress taking place, but safety isn't here. There is a rising crime rate. The rising safety needs should have been addressed," said Encarnacion, who is chairman of the Senate Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice Committee.

Sen. Ronald Russell said that the lack of vocational and technical training in schools should have been addressed.

In his address, Turnbull became passionate in his disapproval of Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen's proposal to create a chief financial officer, much to Christensen's surprise. The bill does not take any power away from the territory, and she will not withdraw it, she said.

"The people of the Virgin Islands were very clear that this is what they want," Christensen said. "You have to listen to the people who elected you."

Sen. Louis Hill, Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville and Sen. Roosevelt David said the people must have a say in formulating a territorial constitution. They issued unanimous disapproval of Turnbull's idea to convert the Revised Organic Act into a constitution.

David said he believes the Revised Organic Act is a "colonial" document and that "we've grown beyond that." Figueroa-Serville said that the constitution should be created and not just "handed to us."

Sen. Adlah Donastorg Jr. said Turnbull mentioned his concern about the environment and quality of life territorywide but actions speak louder than words.

"The true test of the pudding is in the taste. You have to produce," Donastorg said.

Sen. Celestino White Sr. had little to say about Turnbull's address.

White said he is still trying to digest it and that nothing stood out, "It was little bits of things that have been promised before."

Posted by afinta at 09:43 AM

February 01, 2005

State of the Territory Address tonight

A year ago, Gov. Charles Turnbull declared the Virgin Islands' economy in initial stages of recovery and said with "cautious optimism" that better times were ahead in his State of the Territory Address.

Turnbull trumpeted the Economic Development Commission tax-incentive program as one of the "key elements in our fiscal recovery plan." The program lures businesses to the islands with attractive tax breaks - up to 100 percent of personal income taxes.

"In addition to creating good paying jobs for our young people with business and accounting degrees and generating substantial revenues for the government, the EDC program is continuing to have a positive effect throughout our economy," Turnbull said.

What a difference a year makes.

In October, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a bill that brings strict new residency and source of income rules to EDC beneficiaries. The rules state that business owners must spend 183 days a year in the territory and that all money made on the U.S. mainland would no longer be eligible for the tax breaks the program provides.

Months later, the impact of those new rules looms as an ominous question mark. The territory is waiting on the results of an economic analysis from PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Turnbull, local politicians and EDC representatives have been in close contact with the federal government, hoping to persuade the U.S. Treasury Department to create exceptions to the new rules that are favorable to the program so that beneficiaries do not leave the territory. At least four businesses have indicated to the V.I. Labor Department they will shut down operations in the territory because of the changes in the law, according to documents released last week.

In tonight's State of the Territory speech, Turnbull is sure to address the economic impact of the changes to the EDC laws and may have numbers to back up his analysis. On Friday, Government House spokesman James O'Bryan Jr. was tight-lipped about what the governor may say, but he promised Turnbull will not beat around the bush.

"He is going to be straightforward and frank," O'Bryan said.

The territory's economic condition historically has dominated Turnbull's State of the Territory addresses, and this year should be no different.

In April, Turnbull presented a sobering budget forecast to Democratic senators. The analysis, prepared by Banc of America Securities, projected that the territory will have a $92.4 million deficit by the end of Fiscal Year 2005 - including a $9.5 million General Fund shortfall.

"Reliance on one-time revenue sources and long-term debt are not sustainable solutions," Turnbull wrote. "Tough choices must be made immediately to prevent acute financial distress in the future. We must substantially reduce the cost of government operations."

The FY 2005 budget attempted to do that, with Turnbull trimming his proposal to $565 million - $25 million less than he proposed for the FY 2004 budget. Three new taxes were included in Turnbull's proposal, all of which were taken out by the Senate.

The Senate passed a $607 million budget, which was signed into law - except for about $10 million for negotiated raises for unionized government employees and V.I. Legislature staff. With the uncertainty caused by the changes to federal laws governing the EDC tax incentive program, Turnbull said the territory may not be able to sustain the raises.

All of the financial news in the last year was not bad, however. The Federal Emergency Management Agency forgave the territory's $185 million loan for damages caused in Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, and Internal Revenue Bureau Director Louis Willis said that tax collections are improving.

With economic decline, increasing jobless rates, high crime, mixed messages on government tourism promotion and a perception among residents of government apathy, the future of St. Croix is likely to consume a large portion of Turnbull's speech.

Though many of the issues that face St. Croix are not new, voters in November brought the island's plight to the forefront. Four of the seven senators representing St. Croix are new, and the freshman at-large senator won his seat from St. Croix votes. The 26th Legislature is setting St. Croix's concerns at the top of their agenda, and talk of re-energizing the island is on the lips of the territory's policymakers.

Last year, Turnbull trumpeted more than $45 million in expected capital projects coming to St. Croix in his State of the Territory Address. Many of these projects, including road repairs and the restoration of Times Square, are under way or completed.

However, road repairs are not a solution to the island's flagging economy. According to the V.I. Bureau of Labor Statistics, St. Croix's unemployment rate was 10.1 percent in November - 2Â percent higher than that on St. Thomas.

Tourism, while slowly increasing on St. Croix, is nowhere near the volume on St. Thomas. The lack of a comprehensive plan from the V.I. government to bring more cruise ships to St. Croix - as they promised to provide to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association in 2001 - has raised suspicions about the government's sincerity in efforts to reinvigorate tourism.

Turnbull, a former Education commissioner, is sure to praise the territory's public high schools for being close to regaining accreditation.

In late 2004, two of the territory's high schools - Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean - received approval for reaccreditation from a visiting team of academic professionals representing the Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools. Central High School and St. Croix Educational Complex will host Middle States visiting teams this year.

While getting closer to accreditation is praiseworthy, educators, students and parents have loudly protested the physical condition of the schools and department-wide policies throughout the last year. The education community spent much of the last year trying to get Turnbull to notice their plight.

Most recently, protests over the condition of facilities shook Addelita Cancryn Junior High School. A written response provided completion dates for two short-term projects at the school, but left out several long-term problems - such as rebuilding classrooms destroyed by arson in November.

Cancryn is not the only school that has expressed problems to Turnbull. Educators and students from Kean marched on Government House in October to protest the lack of an alternative education program for troubled students. Several other schools had unscheduled days off this year because of sewage on campus or transfers of educators.

Turnbull is likely to mention the territory's ongoing war on crime but having recently vetoed a comprehensive bill to bring major reforms to criminal justice, he will have to be careful in choosing his words.

At the close of the 25th Legislature, senators unanimously approved the Omnibus Justice Bill of 2004, which would have established a panel of civilians to review allegations of serious crimes against law enforcement officers and update laws regarding stalking, child pornography, drunken driving, drugs, child custody and human trafficking. Turnbull vetoed the entire bill, saying several sections "are in need of additional fine-tuning."

Meanwhile, crime in the territory is on the rise, going against the downward trend of violence in the rest of the United States. According to recent statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime in the territory rose 13 percent in the first half of 2004. In the rest of the country, violent crime fell 2 percent.

Looking at all of 2004, violent crime was on the upswing. In 2003, the territory saw 30 homicides, 134 robberies and 44 shootings. Last year, there were 36 homicides, 153 armed robberies and 68 shootings, according to statistics compiled by The Daily News.

The one thing that has soundly improved territorywide in the last year is tourism, and Turnbull is sure to talk about the increasing numbers of visitors.

According to recent statistics from the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research, more than 2 million people visited the territory during the first 10 months of 2004 - an 11.3 increase over visitors in 2003.

Cruise ship calls, passengers traveling by air and hotel occupancy all are on the rise territorywide. Biweekly Danish charter flights to St. Croix starting last year have helped boost that island's air visitors and hotel occupancy.

Several long-awaited capital projects are finally on their way to completion, and Turnbull will certainly recap their progress.

After many years, the V.I. Waste Management Authority is finally a reality. The authority is responsible for the territory's waste disposal systems and is in charge of compliance with federal mandates to upgrade the territory's solid waste and sewer systems. To bring the territory into compliance with federal mandates, Turnbull signed a $123 million contract with VWNA Caribbean in April to design, build and manage two new wastewater treatment plants on St. Thomas and St. Croix.

The former Yacht Haven Hotel, a dilapidated eyesore on St. Thomas for almost a decade, is finally being rebuilt. Property owners IN-USVI began demolishing the Havensight site's six buildings in March to make way for a more-than $150 million hotel-marina project.

The Christiansted boardwalk extension, giving seaplane passengers arriving on St. Croix easier access to the downtown area, is in progress. The Crown Bay Cruise and Commercial Center is on target to be ready for businesses in May. The long-awaited dredging of St. John's Enighed Pond also should be finished this year.

Posted by afinta at 09:43 PM