Residents of Coral Bay might be relieved to learn that some of the drones they notice flying overhead aren’t just spying; rather, they are part of an effort to alleviate stormwater flooding problems.
The drones are being used over the next few months to map the Coral Bay watershed thanks to a grant to the Coral Bay Community Council which is part of a FEMA risk mitigation program. The results of this “hydrological and hydraulic study” will help the Department of Public Works plan and build new roads –– and improve existing ones.
“Were excited. We’ll soon have the dataset we’ve wanted for years,” DPW Commissioner Derek Gabriel told several dozen residents of Coral Bay and beyond on Saturday evening.
Gabriel and other DPW officials drove through St. John’s to Miss Lucy’s restaurant on Friis Bay to provide updates on roadwork and other projects.
Since residents of the eastern part of St. John must drive across the island to get to the Susannaberg Clinic, services in Cruz Bay, and ferries and barges to St. Thomas, they are especially aware the condition of the roads.
Gabriel said that in addition to installing new guardrails, work has been completed on Centerline Road – for the time being. DPW plans to seek additional funds to repave portions of Centerline Road, the main road between Cruz Bay and Coral Bay.
Jomo McClean, program manager for the highway’s reconstruction, said DPW will “start with the design phase” and apply for community development block grant funds made available through the Federal Public Transport Administration.
Gabriel called for a round of applause for St. John Roads Manager Derron Jordan, who worked diligently to fill potholes and resurface sections of Centerline Road. Jordan and his team are now working to clean out the culverts, swales and culverts to accommodate more stormwater during hurricane season.
But Gabriel didn’t have good news for some Coral Bay residents, including Janet Burton, who asked about the possibility of paving King Hill Road and Johnny Horn Road; these two historic roads could provide alternate routes out of Coral Bay if Centerline Road is blocked by landslides, as was the case in several places when Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in 2017.
Gabriel said there are currently no plans to improve either alternate route, but additional funds may be available through federal programs, including the American Rescue Plan Act. “There are funding opportunities. We’ve been very lucky with the grants.
David Silverman asked Gabriel if DPW’s current plans include burying electrical wires and other equipment between Cruz Bay and the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, as part of WAPA’s “underground” project to protect the power grid from storms. .
Gabriel said DPW has no plans for this at this time. The “dig it once” policy sometimes slows the process when utility companies are planning major work, he said.
Anne-Marie Estes asked if DPW has resolved the flooding issue near the Cruz Bay tennis courts. McClean said funding through a FEMA Risk Mitigation Grant has been approved and is in the design phase. Construction could take two more years, he said.
Gabriel had more good news for residents of St. John. He said plans are moving forward for a new ferry between St. Thomas and St. John.
The Department of Public Works secured $5.1 million in federal funding to acquire a 300-passenger ferry to facilitate peak-hour passenger flow. DPW now owns two ferries that are leased separately to Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures, the two ferry companies that operate between Red Hook and Cruz Bay.
Asked how DPW will organize the operations of the new ferry with two competing ferry companies, Gabriel replied: “Very carefully”.
Gabriel also said a new street sweeper has been ordered for St. John.
Alvis Christian asked Gabriel about DPW’s plans to build water, sewage treatment and solid waste facilities in Coral Bay. “We don’t have any infrastructure to deal with these things, but we keep building and building and building,” Christian said.
Gabriel said he had no answers for Christian on those questions, but assured him that “there are cabinet-level conversations” about them.
Christian’s question about infrastructure led to another part of Saturday night’s meeting – soliciting suggestions for questions to ask candidates at an upcoming public forum focused on Coral Bay issues sponsored by the Coral Community Council. Bay.
At the meeting, residents were also informed about the septic systems projects sponsored by the Coral Bay Community Council; the recycling efforts of the Island Green Living Association; a free debris removal project funded by Love City Strong; a new emergency vessel in Coral Bay operated by St. John Rescue; and Labor Day activities – for which volunteers are needed.
Sharon Coldren, president of CBCC, said residents could borrow a hydrogen sulfide meter from their office to determine if fumes from the influx of Sargassum seaweed had reached levels that could be harmful to health.
At the meeting, residents also called for better access to vaccines, repairing broken streetlights and opening the Sprung Shelter as a community center on the site of the former Guy Benjamin School.
Reverend Elva Richards-Goodwin, pastor of the Moravian Church of Emmaus which hosted Saturday’s meeting, clarified the church’s policy on the use of the Coral Bay ball field, which is owned by the conference of the Moravian Church. She said groups who wanted to organize an activity should approach the council, but people who wanted to use the land – for cycling, for example – were welcome to do so.