On her next hike, a Beaconite will keep her eye out for the highly endangered Marrón bacora, a 10-foot-tall flowering shrub that produces purple-and-yellow flowers. Why? Tortola is one of only two islands in the world on which it is known to grow. The other is nearby St. John. The plant was once thought extinct, but it was rediscovered in 1992, according to a press release from the United States-based Center for Biological Diversity. Last week, after five decades of lobbying by environmental activists, the US Fish and Wildlife Service decided to protect Marrón bacora as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, designating 2,548 acres on St. John as critical habitat for the plant. Like other plants on the island, the species is threatened by severe storms, increasing urban development and predation by non-native animals like goats and donkeys — all of which are issues on Tortola as well. The Beaconite would like to urge government leaders and residents alike to be aware of this plant and take whatever measures are needed to protect it.
A Beaconite was disappointed this week at the first community meeting about implementing the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations when Premier’s Office Permanent Secretary Carolyn Stoutt-Igwe strongly discouraged attendees and press from live-streaming or recording the event. Though Monday’s discussion was thoughtful and Ms. Stoutt-Igwe did an otherwise commendable job of overseeing the forum, it has to be noted that the in-person turnout of less than 50 wasn’t stupendous. The reporter recognises the importance of providing opportunities for residents to freely speak their minds on the future development of the territory. She also understands that some people may be concerned about getting backlash for the views they share at such a forum. But the recording restrictions come at the cost of excluding people who wished to engage in the discussion online. The fact remains that many community members won’t have time to attend these meetings in person, but they should still get a chance to listen and participate. The Beaconite is sure Ms. Stoutt-Igwe’s move was well intentioned, but she worries it may hurt attendance numbers even more if the tone set is one of fear of retaliation. She thinks a happy compromise could be livestreaming the meetings, but also providing a box for anonymous written feedback — which could then be read out loud. Additionally, residents could be offered opportunities to speak privately with ministers directly after the meeting, which plenty of people did on Monday anyway. The reporter hopes the administration embraces the openness shown during the COI investigations — which prompted fruitful, thought-provoking discussion throughout the territory — while leaving behind bad habits of operating behind closed doors.
Since the indoor mask mandate was lifted last week, a Beaconite is readjusting to the “new, new normal.” She’s unaccustomed to walking into stores or restaurants without her mask, but she’s tried it out a couple of times. When walking into a grocery recently, she asked if she needed to wear her mask. She was told it was her choice. She’s also tested the new, new normal in other spaces like laundromats and restaurants. Though she was prepared to hear employees tell her to mask up (since government is allowing businesses to choose their own policies), no one said a thing. After more than two years of protecting her nose and mouth, it feels strange to resume life as if there were no Covid-19 in the air. But, as many have pointed out to her in recent days, humans are extremely adaptable. Soon enough, the pandemic days will be a distant memory.
A welcome success
All too frequently, a Beaconite finds himself reporting on badly needed public projects that have been delayed, abandoned, or beset with cost overruns. It was reassuring, then, to read this week that the affordable housing project on Joes Hill has been finished about 13 months ahead of schedule. This is great news for struggling residents in a territory with an expensive housing market where food prices, gas, and other living expenses have ballooned in recent months. And as many of the revelations from the recently published Commission of Inquiry report shine a light on the problems with governance in the territory, the success of this project is a welcome reminder that residents do indeed benefit when elected governments, the public service, and private governments work together. Nonetheless, more transparency is needed, as officials have not disclosed the price of the units or explained how recipients will be selected.