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Long, Slow Recovery Predicted For Some National Parks In Caribbean


Putting the pieces back together following Hurricane Irma won't be easy for Puerto Ricans/NPS, Randy Lavasseur

Damage inflicted by the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria could keep Virgin Islands National Park virtually closed for six months to a year, according to the National Park Service's Caribbean superintendent. When the five other parks in the Caribbean reopen depends largely on when the islands' power grids are restored and fuel becomes available, he added.

“I now consider ourselves progressing," Randy Lavasseur said Wednesday during a spotty cell phone conversation from his post in Puerto Rico. "Before we were still playing catchup. We’re progressing now. We’re actually starting to accomplish work, finding out how our new normal is. It’s a feel good, definitely, the last couple of days. This is what really made my heart warm: last night I learned we have 100 percent accountability of all of our staff members throughout the Caribbean. Not just government employees. We also have 100 percent accountability on all of our concessions.”

Perched under overcast skies on his balcony overlooking Old San Juan where the cell signal seemed best, Superintendent Lavasseur described the fuel shortages, destroyed power grids, and widespread damage that the two hurricanes had inflicted on the islands.

“Of all the national parks in the Caribbean, the most significant damage happened at St. John during Irma. We know we sustained a little bit more damage from Maria down in St. John, but for the most part Irma was the catalyst that did the most of the damage out there," he said. "At St. Croix (Christiansted National Historic Site), structurally, no damage. We’re very fortunate there. … It’s all cosmetic over there. The San Juan National Historic Site, our forts, starting from the early 1500s all the way to the 1700s, the Spanish knew how to build some walls and build some structures, and luckily thanks to our masonry workers who make sure that they’re stable, we haven’t had any damage."

But across the Caribbean the slog to clean up and recover promised to be a slow, uncomfortable process. Debris and downed power lines still littered some of the roads in Puerto Rico, said Superintendent Lavasseur, and fuel shortages affected both travel and power generation.

According to the commissioner of tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Royal Carribean's Adventure of the Seas cruise ship was heading out on a mission of mercy.

"The ship is scheduled to sail from St. Croix on Friday, September 29, accommodating up to 750 passengers from St. Croix, and will leave St. Thomas on Saturday, September 30, with up to 200 passengers from St. John and 50 from St. Thomas," the commissioner said. "The voyage will end in Fort Lauderdale approximately two days after departing St. Thomas. Priority for passage will be given to high risk pregnant women, the elderly and those with urgent medical needs."

Superintendent Lavasseur said a critical problem overshadowing the islands' recovery was the shortage of fuel.

“Because of the fuel issue throughout all of the Caribbean, we don’t have the sustainability to keep running our generators 24/7, especially to open up the parks. We just don’t have that fuel supply," he said. "At San Juan National Historic Site, I closed down all the forts here, we’re down to one generator to conserve fuel. We’re having a significant diesel fuel shortage, and I’ve had to siphon fuel out of the other generators just to run the one generator that’s operating our shelters and our headquarters.”

Still, conditions at San Juan National Historic Site are such that the park probably could reopen once power is restored, the superintendent said.

Eastern National employees have been cleaning up the gift shop at Fort Cristibol, one of the forts at San Juan National Historic Site/NPS, Randy Lavasseur

“We do have a core group cleaning and making sure things are safe for anybody that were to come visit us. A major component is when we will get power back and when our employees can actually get fuel in their cars so that they can come to work," Superintendent Lavasseur said. "We have employees stuck at their homes only because they cannot fuel their cars. We’re stressing to them, don’t risk it. Right now it’s about the safety of everybody and don’t try to hurt yourself trying to get to work or get yourself stranded by trying to get to work.”

At St. John, more than half of which is covered by Virgin Islands National Park, conditions are much worse. Assessment teams summoned to inspect roads and other park infrastructure currently are stuck on the mainland because of flight issues, he said.

“We won’t know the significance of the roads until we get federal highways (personnel) out there. We know we have a lot of undercutting of the highway there, we have to really look at what that undercutting has done structurally," said Superintendent Lavasseur. "The beaches, I’ll tell you, the beaches are resilient. They’ve been good, they know how to treat themselves. It’s already blue water coming back."

But, he said, what damage, if any, was done beneath the water surface remains to be seen.

"We don’t know the significance of damage to the corals. As soon as we can we want to get some specialists out there to see what has happened so we can get the information out," he said. "I know a lot of people are worried about our corals and what happened and what kind of sediment went down into our reefs.”

While people are allowed to visit the park's beaches and travel the North Shore and Centerline roads on St. John, it will be at least six months, and possibly a year, before park facilities are repaired and operating and interpretive staff are back on the job, the superintendent said.

"We’re still running on generators (at St. John)," he said. "They’re (the Virgin Islands government) going to have to do a whole reconstruction of the power grid out there. So we’re not optimistic for power. We’re still anticipating six months to a year before we can even start thinking about reopening St. John. Absolutely. We had a lot of significant structural damage. We lost buildings. The power grid out there, it was never really stable in the beginning. Being the mass destruction of the power grid, it’s going to take a long, long time for the power to come up."

Once the damage assessment teams can reach St. John, they'll prepare two documents for the Park Service: “The down and dirty kind of document that says this is what stabilization and potential recovery looks like, and then an overall document that’s going to be in-depth of what recovery into reopening looks like.” 

For now, non-essential personnel from Virgin Islands National Park are awaiting temporary assignments to other parks, said Superintendent Lavasseur, while essential personnel are at work on St. John repairing, rebuilding, and watching out for government assets and islanders.

Wednesday morning, before making the phone call, the superintendent and his wife stood in line for an hour to get into a grocery; once inside, the available items were greatly limited, he said.

“Life is not easy here in Puerto Rico much like the other Caribbean (islands)," he said. "It’s getting better day by day, but there are still a lot of significant concerns out here. You still have to be concerned, you have to watch around you, but it’s getting better day by day.”

Traveler footnote: To stay on top of news from the Caribbean parks, follow Superintendent Lavasseur on Twitter: @usranger0randy

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Randy is a longtime friend.  I actually stayed with him and his awesome family just prior to Irma hitting!  Randy is a good Christian man and my prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico and other islands affected by this tragedy!  

 I don't know how he can live with himself. He must wake up in the morning and must "who can I hurt today?"

As usual, a totally false headline and Rick took it hook, line and sinker.  

That was yesterday, per Newsweek. Today, per Huffington Post:


"President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he's considering waiving the Jones Act for Puerto Rico -- an arguably outdated law that imposes exorbitant shipping costs on the island -- but tempered his support for it because he's getting pushback from the shipping industry.

"We're thinking about that," he said at a White House press event. "But we have a lot of shippers and ... a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don't want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now."

The 1920 law requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by American-owned and operated ships, which are more expensive vessels than others in the global marketplace. That means Puerto Rico has to pay double the costs for goods from the U.S. mainland compared with neighboring islands -- and that U.S. vessels are making bank. The law costs Puerto Rico hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and now, in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, the costs to import food, fuel and other supplies will spike amid the island's economic devastation."


 And now he has waived it.

But contrary to the original headline and your puppeting it, he never refused to send more aid to Puerto Rico.


Now, lets ditch the Jones Act all together.  


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