The border reopening, health care and infrastructure were among the wide range of issues discussed when government representatives visited Anegada on Sunday afternoon for a community meeting.
“I know a lot of you would be keen to know about the reopening of the borders,” said At-large Representative Neville “Sheep” Smith.
A collective “yes” broke out among the more than 40 residents who sat socially distanced in the courtyard of the Claudia Creque Educational Centre.
Though Mr. Smith did not dive into details, he hinted that restaurants on Anegada would be able to deliver food to quarantined bareboats, and he promised that government would continue to provide up dates when they are available.
“We understand that time is of the essence, so bear with us,” he said.
The meeting began with prayer and a word from Premier Andrew Fahie, who thanked Anegada residents for adhering to protocols and curfew orders during the pandemic.
“I want you to give yourself a round of applause,” he said. “It’s because of you we have zero cases today.”
After a short speech, Mr. Fahie handed the microphone over to other government ministers who attended the meeting.
Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone announced that swabbing stations will be set up across the territory to facilitate testing for Covid-19.
“Swabbing stations are being set up at each of the islands: here at the clinic; one on Jost Van Dyke; Virgin Gorda has two clinics; and Tortola has about three or four sites,” he said.
Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley also commented briefly on the reopening protocols.
“We’ve been thinking a lot about what we can do for Anegada. We call it the Anegada Agenda, which is a five-month programme in case tourism is soft: What we can do to make sure we get tourists to Anegada. And that is what we’re going to do,” he added.
He didn’t provide more information at the meeting, but on Tuesday he told the Beacon that the agenda is a “brainstorm of what can be done to assist the island of Anegada.”
The list includes road works, bush cutting, subsidised ferries, subsidised accommodations, personal subsidies, better market access, fishing and agricultural subsidies, workshops and government retreats, he said on Tuesday.
Taxi driver Aubrey Levons. praised the government representatives for visiting the island.
“I think the meeting is good,” he said. “Anegada has been neglected for years. We notice it. Tourists notice it.”
During the meeting, Mr. Wheatley acknowledged that the island has been “neglected” and assured residents that it would not be overlooked anymore.
“This here today is testament of our commitment to Anegada’s development,” he stated.
Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles also spoke, telling attendees that many business owners have already received cheques from the business stimulus promised in late May.
She also said there are more to come, though she didn’t provide numbers or other specifics.
“We want to put together a business group here on Anegada so that you guys could work together, create your own events, do whatever you need to do to ensure that Anegada stays where it needs to be — and that is on top,” she said. “We also are looking at small loans and grants for start-up businesses.”
She added that she and the premier are looking to roll out those initiatives and a virtual expo around Christmastime.
“I always like to make sure that whatever is happening throughout the territory, whoever is benefitting from any initiative that we the government have, that it spreads out to Anegada and the other sister islands,” she said. “For those of you who may not know, we still have material grants, hurricane shutter grants, and appliance grants.”
Ms. Flax-Charles said Anegada district officer Shirley Vanterpool has the application forms, and she urged residents to fill out the forms fully.
Mr. Malone spoke after Ms. Flax-Charles, providing brief updates about health care and other topics.
“We want to make sure the work that is required in the clinic, getting the dentist here on a more regular basis, we must be able to do this,” he said, drawing applause.
He also said that the removal of derelict boats continues throughout the territory.
Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley took the microphone next. As the minister of agriculture and fisheries, he announced that an initiative that was announced in March to distribute $2 million to farmers and fishers is finally getting off the ground.
“I’m pleased that we have begun printing our cheques for fishermen and farmers,” he said. “Food security is not a plus: It’s a must. We will make sure you get those cheques.”
He also assured residents that government officials would have open conversations with them. Like other representatives, he thanked the premier for making funds available to accomplish economic initiatives.
“Even in the midst of Covid-19 where the revenue has dropped so much, … the minister of finance has said whatever you need for the schools, he’s going to provide the financing,” Dr. Wheatley said. “And so we’re going to start some work very shortly to ensure that we get some of the infrastructural challenges sorted.”
Dr. Wheatley also announced a new shipment of laptops for schools and asked Mr. Smith to give an update about improvements to the basketball court.
“I have some good news for you,” Mr. Smith said. “The first thing I want to tell you all is that the basketball court is on bid this week, so that means we’ll see some work get started on that soon.”
He said the area, which is currently overrun with animals like goats, will soon be a space for children to enjoy themselves.
Mr. Smith also gave a brief update on the reopening, but said he wouldn’t provide many details because this reporter was in attendance.
“I’m not going to say too much about it because we have to be careful what we say and what we get out there in terms of it [being] taken in different ways,” he said.
Currently, he explained, the protocols are being handled by the steering group that was recently formed to address the public’s concerns about the reopening. That group has been meeting and discussing how to adjust the protocols, especially for the sister islands, according to Mr. Smith, who is a member.
He added that restaurants will be permitted to deliver food to quarantined guests on anchored yachts, and that guests will be allowed to come ashore after four days of quarantine and a negative test result.
But he stopped short of providing further details.
“I’m saying this because I see the media, so I’m asking the media not to disclose anything I say here considering the reopening for a reason,” he said of this reporter. “I’m saying it because we want to make sure one voice goes out to the public with this. It’s something that we have to work together doing. Because when we hear media saying one thing, another media saying something else, it get four different scenarios, and that is what we’re trying to avoid.”
Transportation, Works and Utilities Minister Kye Rymer (R-D5) also spoke, recalling paving some roads on Anegada since taking office in February 2019.
“We have been in dialogue with a contractor who still needs to be rewarded,” he said, adding, “We are working on the logistics to make sure that road is actually completed.”
He also listed other completed and incomplete projects, including the restoration of the fire station, which had been dilapidated since Hurricane Irma in 2017 and was restored this year.
Junior Minister for Tourism Sharie de Castro (R-at large), told attendees that she understands “there is no tourism in the [VI] without Anegada.”
“We have truly worked for long hours to make sure that the reopening plan on Dec. 1 truly comes to fruition as we balance lives and livelihoods,” she added. “We were able to make some necessary adjustments to the initial protocols that were released. The reality on the ground is that come Dec. 1 we will be welcoming tourists to the shore by air and then Dec. 8 by sea.”
She also explained the Gold Seal training through which businesses need to be approved for re-opening. There are online and in-person options, she added, and urged residents to sign up.
Mr. Wheatley spoke next, noting all the work that needs to be done on the island including the removal of derelict boats and upgrades to the dump.
“We heard your cry,” he told residents.
Mr. Wheatley also announced the formation of an Anegada Lands Advisory Committee, which he said will ensure that people get titles to land on the island.
Four members of the advisory committee stood up and received a round of applause from the attendees.
According to Mr. Wheatley, the committee has had one meeting so far.
“We want people to stop building illegally,” he said. “If you build illegally, you’re going to pay. We want you to build legally. We are all in this together.”
Residents also aired concerns during a question-and-answer session, touching on the reopening protocols for the sister islands; the crippled economy in Anegada, which relies heavily on fishing and tourism; and needed improvements to the school, among other topics.
Messrs. Smith and Malone answered questions about the protocols, reiterating that restaurants would be able to deliver food to visitors quarantined in boats.
One resident brought up the possibility of farming medical marijuana on the island, and Dr. Wheatley responded by saying the government has done all it can including community meetings, but the needed legislation passed recently in the House of Assembly still awaits the governor’s assent.
“The programme is completely at a standstill for months and months now just because of the governor not assenting to the legislation,” he said.
He also reminded residents of opportunities related to the planned solar power farm to be constructed on the island.
“One of the biggest things happening in the Virgin Islands will be happening right here in Anegada, which is the solar farms,” he said. “We’re getting ready to invest close to $5 million into solar farms and it’s going to be done by Virgin Islanders. And that will provide 90 percent of the power in Anegada.”
He announced that tuition for the first five residents to sign up to be trained as solar technicians will be paid in full by the government. Ms. Flax-Charles explained that the government doesn’t want to bring people into the territory to maintain the farm.
“We want you to be able to maintain the solar farm yourself,” she said.
Mr. Wheatley also said he’s been talking to stakeholders who want to construct Olympic training facilities on Anegada for international athletes.
Though he didn’t offer details, he explained that some athletes in cold climates need a warmer place to train.
One resident who identified himself as the Parent Teacher Association president of the educational centre complained of problems with the building.
“We’ve been asking for a lot of help and it’s been ignored,” he said. “Please do what you can do to help the school.”
Mr. Fahie told the man that he would speak to stakeholders after the meeting to sort out the situation.