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The Government Shutdown Goes Caribbean

October 2, 2013

St John, USVI, hotbed of #shutdown protest?

So it would seem, however unlikely.

Our fair island is about 70% National Park land.  Our tourism industry depends largely on operations and concessions inside the park – everything from taxi tours to boat charters, from snorkeling trips to beach weddings.  Visitors come from near and far, both domestic and abroad, to sit on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  Most of all, people visit for a chance to breathe, relax, and let the rest of the world fall away for a little while.

Yesterday, all of that changed.  When Congress allowed partisan politics to prevent them from reaching an agreement to fund the government, a long list of government programs and agencies were immediately shut down, including the National Park system within the Department of the Interior.  In the Virgin Islands this left some 65 employees furloughed until further notice, a move that most within the Park had been warned to expect.  What we, the residents of St John, did not expect, was the full scale closure of the National Park beaches and surrounding waters.

This complaint may sound like small potatoes to the rest of the country, so lets detail some of the effects of these closures:

  • Tours in the park were suspended, on foot, by car, or by boat.  This is a main source of income for an eco-tourism based destination.
  • Use of the National Park mooring balls was suspended, preventing boaters and dive companies from accessing beaches and dive sites within the park.
  • Citations and parking tickets were issued to visitors and locals alike found using the beaches – I can only imagine what a bitter taste this would leave in your mouth if you had saved money all year for your Caribbean beach vacation, only to arrive and be told that you cannot use the beach.
  • Any business in Cruz Bay renting snorkel gear, paddle boards, or any other gear designed to be utilized mainly within the waters of the park experienced significant drops in business.

In some ways, I suppose we should be grateful that it is our slowest time of year here, with the fewest tourists on island affected.  In truth, however, this is the time of year when every dollar counts, when one more sale can make a demonstrable difference in local lives.  Now our government is not only furloughing employees who need the hours and threatening our livelihoods during a particularly delicate time, they’re shutting down WIC overnight, leaving some mothers wondering how they’re going to feed their children.

There have been a lot of upset, frustrated, and bewildered voices making themselves heard on our quiet little island in the last 24 hours.  We’re used to being overlooked by the federal government – we don’t vote, we have a delegate to Congress who can’t vote either, our taxes are territorial, not federal.  Even within the hierarchy of territories, power-wise we don’t hold a candle to our neighbor Puerto Rico.  Why the government has chosen to implement these measures is a mystery to most of us.  Ostensibly it’s a liability issue: if the Park is closed, and some sort of accident happens, the Park is liable.  However, only one of our beaches is staffed with lifeguards under normal circumstances anyway, and when the Park closes on holidays, beaches are not barricaded, nor are citations issued to beach-goers.  It should also be noted, interestingly, that according to VI Coastal Zone Management Act Section 903 (b) (6), all Virgin Islands beaches are public, from the high tide mark down to the water line… one can only assume, with the National Park claiming the adjacent land and water areas, that we could safely and legally parachute into the “public” sections of the beaches..?  I see potential here.

So where’s the disconnect?  I don’t claim to know the answer, but what I do know is this: every day that this shutdown drags on is hurting our economy, as it’s hurting the economy nationwide.  I guess we should all rest easy knowing that Congress is being paid well to hurl insults and rhetoric across the aisle and point fingers, but I sure wish they would start acting like adults who bear the burden of responsibility to fix this problem.

Here on St John, as our Park rangers do their appointed tasks efficiently and effectively, and we smile  (It’s not their fault, after all.  They don’t like it anymore than we do), and take our citations, and go out to the beach again tomorrow (Occupy St John Beaches), we will try to placate justifiably irritated tourists and remind them that life in the islands is about more than beaches.  It’s about community, and perspective, and happy hour… and more often than not it’s about rolling your eyes at the unbelievable stupidity of government.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara Sanders permalink
    October 3, 2013 3:01 am

    If it were up to me I fire the whole damn bunch like Australia did. Then only hire back Representatives and Senators who want to work for their paycheck. GOP now stands for Grand Obstructionist Party. I’ve never been so disgusted.

    • n2kaja permalink
      October 4, 2013 6:47 pm

      I live in Australia when did this happen? Not recently. If you think that’s what happened the last election, it didn’t. We exchanged one party for another but the people are all the same
      And it was a very close race. Now we have the worst leader ever.

  2. October 3, 2013 1:49 pm

    The government wants to inflict maximum pain, so that all the subjects realize how beholden they are to the government. They had hundreds of ways to cut back that would hardly have been noticed, But they chose specifically painful and visible
    ways. This is not new, it’s par for the course. They are $16 trillion in debt. When did the lack of a little money ever stop them? This is all theatre, to keep the citizens in line.

    • Lydia Barreiros permalink
      October 4, 2013 10:22 am

      this is the crazy tbaggers hating on our government and, especially, our black president. the gop in the house could have signed the cr and continued to try repealing aca for the nth time. one has nothing to do with the other. if this is theater, it’s a tragedy.

  3. October 3, 2013 10:50 pm

    Reblogged this on WingRight and commented:
    Here’s what’s happening on St. John, US Virgin Islands due to Obama’s temper tantrum.

    • Lydia Barreiros permalink
      October 4, 2013 10:31 am

      ‘Here’s what’s happening’ all over America because of the teabags’ refusal to accept aca. after 40+ fruitless attempts to repeal it. they are holding the economy hostage by attaching it to the cr. respectfuly, anyone who doesn’t see this obvious maneuver and their flagrant lies is misinformed or as crazy as they are. obama’s tantrum?? really??

      • October 4, 2013 12:08 pm

        You might want to look up the nasty meaning of “teabags.” In the meantime, the House (100% elected by their respective constituents in 2012) has passed measure after measure in an attempt to alleviate the effects of the lack of a Federal budget – only to be obstructed by the Senate. Seriously, what is the purpose of the barricades and citations that were never present when the parks were closed for holidays?

  4. JoAnn Blaser permalink
    October 4, 2013 7:46 am

    Your POTUS has ordered this, not Congress. Never before during the 17 other shut downs has this occurred.

  5. Tom B. permalink
    October 4, 2013 12:16 pm

    Both houses of congress are to blame along with POTUS. Anyone who thinks its all the “dems” fault or “repugs” fault is spending too much time tuned into their favorite partisan talk show and eating the candy sound bites they want their bases to munch on. Wake up people! Their all bought and paid for by lobbyists. They are all to blame. It constantly amazes me that these putzes can’t come together to figure out a way to spend imaginary money we simply do not possess. They’re pretty good at dividing our country though…

  6. Matt permalink
    October 4, 2013 2:21 pm

    The last time the fed shut down, a judge ordered a beach on St. Croix. Someone should sue… this can definitely be cited as legal precedent!

  7. Max permalink
    October 5, 2013 3:40 am

    Liable? That’s rich.

    The park can not be liable when they are operating. Why would they be liable when they are shut down?

    From NPS St John Parks Concession Authorization:
    Conditions of This Authorization:

    3. This authorization is issued upon the express condition that the United States, its agents and employees shall be free from all liabilities and claims for damages and/or suits for or by reason of any injury, injuries or death to any person or persons or property of any kind whatsoever, whether to the person or property of the (holder), its agents or employees, or third parties, from any cause or causes whatsoever while in or upon said premises or any part thereof during the term of this authorization or occasioned by any occupancy or use of said premises or any activity carried on by the (holder) in connection herewith, and the (Holder) hereby convenants and agrees to indemnify, defend, save and hold harmless the United States, its agents, and employees from all liabilities, charges expenses and costs on account of or by reason of any such injuries, deaths, liabilities, claims, suits or losses however occurring or damages growing out of the same.

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