Senator at Large Wesselhoft Responds to Statements Made in St. John Tradewinds

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Dear Editor,

I feel I owe it to my constituents to clarify, correct and address reports and statements made in the April 23, 2007 edition of the St. John Tradewinds.

I know there is a concerted effort by my detractors to demonize me for disagreeing with them on the Sirenusa issue and, at this point, I am uncertain whether or not misinformation is purposefully being disseminated. I will do my best to set the record straight and explain my decision.

First and foremost, the statement made in your article that “several Crucian senators then followed her lead, going along with the rezoning request after Wesselhoft cast her vote” is completely false. We vote in alphabetical order in the Legislature and only one senator, aside from the sponsor of the rezoning, voted after I cast my own vote. This one senator does not represent St. Croix, but rather the St. Thomas-St. John District.

My vote was only one of 13 others cast in favor of the rezoning and I did not “sway” anyone. Contrary to what some want to believe, I did not carry or sponsor this measure and I can say with 100 percent certainty it would have been approved by a large margin with or without my vote.

I was as surprised as many of you were when this rezoning was special ordered to the floor near the end of the day. I strongly disagree with this tactic and will do my best to discourage my colleagues from doing this in the future. I believe all legislation should be placed on the official agenda prior to a session and the public duly notified. I previously insisted that any hearings or debate on Sirenusa take place on St. John in order to allow for maximum community participation.

I understand perfectly the concerns and the frustration in regard to Sirenusa. The primary reason I ran for office was because I was personally disgusted by the changes here on St. John and our government’s failure to manage growth. Our traffic is out of control, parking in Cruz Bay is a joke, Coral Bay is no longer peaceful, our environment has deteriorated and our infrastructure has been taxed beyond belief.

Unfortunately, these problems would not be resolved simply by saying no to the addition of extra units at Sirenusa. This project was started nearly three years ago and, at this point, no one would benefit by leaving it unfinished. There is no action whatsoever that the Legislature could take that would erase or eliminate what is already there.

I know it may be difficult for those who were strongly opposed to the Sirenusa rezoning to understand, but I could not in good conscience vote against this rezoning when it is clear to me that Sirenusa is not the real problem, but rather the poster child for runaway development on St. John.

Disallowing the additional units at Sirenusa accomplishes little more than making an example of the developers, which to me is unfair given the many egregious acts taking place outside of the spotlight and our own government’s failure to responsibly manage development on St. John. Sirenusa is highly visible, but it is being monitored by DPNR, unlike other large structures being built on St. John without regard to our infrastructure or environment. All those concerned about development, must acknowledge that newer homes and rental villas in Great Cruz Bay, Chocolate Hole, Upper Carolina, Calabash Boom and Fish Bay are part of the problem and have, among other less obvious concerns, created extreme amounts of run off and soil erosion as a result of improper building practices, particularly on steep slopes.

Not everyone is familiar with my background, but I am a former member of the V.I. Resource Conservation and Development Council and I worked for the UVI Cooperative Extension Service for nearly 20 years. I am quite cognizant of environmental and land use issues and this has been an area of special focus for me since being elected. In addition to my proposed temporary moratorium on large scale development, my efforts in these areas over the past 15 weeks have included:

– Formally requesting that the St. John planner be appointed.

– Pursuit of the previously unavailable maps of V.I. Government land on St. John.

– Rejection of administration policy to tie up land in long term leases.

– Discussions with Interior Department officials and the Delegate in regard to local acquisition of National Park property for a school and roads.

– Drafting legislation to create environmentally sound regulations for net fishing.

– Proposing creation of the Tree Conservation Act to protect rare and large trees.

– Assisting in the facilitation of beautifying and improving dumpster sites.

– Providing input on the environmentally sound development of Lindqvist Beach.

– Researching existing and proposed laws on development impact fees.

– Lobbying the governor to move forward with existing legislation creating a Territorial Park System and Park Trust Fund, which is essential to acquiring and managing our offshore cays and other properties.

– Asking the Waste Management Authority to examine the amount of trash coming from St. John hotels and working to develop alternate disposal strategies.

– Reviewing and updating regulations for boats in regard to dumping pollutants.

– Requesting additional funding for removing abandoned cars on St. John.

We have many good laws now on the books that are not being utilized and, since taking office, I have been working to determine where new legislation is necessary. Enforcement is key. Planning is essential. Community involvement is critical.

I am truly unhappy about the deterioration of the quality of life on St. John, but believe we need to take a holistic approach to making improvements. As soon as I took office, I began researching the idea of a temporary moratorium on all large scale development on St. John. I am still hammering out the details of my proposal, but decided to go public since I mentioned the moratorium during the course of the Sirenusa vote. I await and welcome public input on this proposal and I will make certain there is ample opportunity for comment. This moratorium will give us the opportunity to focus our energies and attention on planning and better enforcement rather than on individual projects.

My decision in the case of Sirenusa was not made lightly. I have a large stack of letters, emails, faxes and phone messages urging me both to support and to oppose Sirenusa’s rezoning. I also had numerous discussions with DPNR officials outside what was presented in writing. Contrary to what some may choose to believe, there is no consensus on the Sirenusa issue and I take strong exception to statements made in the St. John Tradewinds by Mr. Don Lynch and Mr. John Francis that I “sold out” or was “paid” off for my vote. This is deeply insulting and disrespectful.

I am a “diehard St. Johnian” — deeply loyal to my island, my people, and unwilling to consider selling even my own property, let alone “selling off” the entire island of St. John as Ms. Cid Hamling also states in her letter to the St. John Tradewinds.

I thank residents for their concern and passionate interest in St. John. But simply because we disagree about how to proceed on Sirenusa, it does not make any of us less passionate or concerned. I first decided to enter public service because I was finding the island where I was born, and have lived my entire life, to be increasingly unrecognizable. But what I find even less recognizable than the changing landscape are the hostile, condescending and unfair statements being made in regard to my integrity.

I should note, for those that do not know, that my own property is fully adjacent to Sirenusa. No one stands to be more impacted by this project, yet I put aside personal considerations when roll call was taken and voted for what I believed was fair rather than what was convenient for me.

There will never be 100 percent agreement on any measure and I believe we can disagree without disrespecting one another or hurling personal insults. I have formally proposed more than 20 pieces of legislation since taking office and expect that my constituents will support some of my initiatives and reject others.

There were more than a handful of misleading and negative statements about me in the April 23 issue of the St. John Tradewinds. I can not address all of them here. I will say for the record that as your senator my first priority remains attending Legislative meetings and I usually only know the Senate agenda one week in advance. For example, I was forced to postpone my earlier meeting with the Coral Bay Community Council because it was scheduled for the same night as the public hearing on Sirenusa.

I am pleased to meet with any group or individual and I welcome your comments, ideas and, yes, even your criticism. It is difficult for me to be every place I would like to at times, as I am not simply the St. John senator, but I represent the entire territory — from Coral Bay to Frederiksted — and have a great deal of ground to cover. My door remains open. Please feel free to stop by my office or call for an appointment.

Carmen Wesselhoft
Senator at Large
27th Legislature