According to local news, the Government of the Virgin Islands has thus far spent some $16 million on Paul E. Joseph Stadium. Since the 2014 groundbreaking for the planned state-of-the-art sports complex on the outskirts of Frederiksted town, construction has had various setbacks. This time, officials said it’s being delayed because it needs FEMA floodplain approval.
As Virgin Islanders, we don’t often pay attention to our historic landscape, a guiding stick to development in the Virgin Islands. The area where the stadium is located is a well-known marshland and everyone knows this.
In 1745, Estate La Grange’s old French ruins were set aside for the construction of a fort and to establish a town on the west end of St. Croix. However, it wasn’t until 1751 that the area was cleared of tree growth and the Danish government ordered surveyor Jens M. Beck to prepare a plan for the building of a town on the island’s west end.
Beck’s plan called for two symmetrical sections of a town in Frederiksted, separated by a natural lagoon. The northern part of the town is located in Estate La Grange, and the southern part is where Frederiksted is located today.
Later in the planning stages of creating a dual town in Frederiksted, the plan was rescinded due to the fact that it could be a health hazard because of the large lagoon, which is considered a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
As a result, the owner of Estate La Grange ceded land to the Danish government on the east and south sides of the southern half of Frederiksted, which was created in 1767 and established the town’s present-day limits. Thus, the proposed site to build the sport complex was a large lagoon that separated the northern, western and southern part of the west end of St. Croix.
Floodplain by nature
Today, where Paul E. Joseph Stadium stands now is a floodplain by nature. In other words, it was a mangrove forest wetland where a small river deposited water from the highlands of Mount Stewart some 800 feet above sea level. Historically, Crucians call the area where the Paul E. Joseph stadium stands today “Pond Bush.”
This wetland site was filled in decades ago. How do you think Lagoon Street got its name in the northeastern section of Frederiksted town? It was part of the lagoon originally. The small river on the west of the island flows from the northwest highlands of St. Croix’s westward and southward slope of the main watershed near Estate Annaly, flowing southeast past several estates like Montpellier, Orange Grove (West), Jolly Hill, Little Grange and La Grange, and empties into West End Bay, just north of Frederiksted town.
Guts in Frederiksted
In the summer of 1734, Frederick Moth, the first Danish governor of St. Croix, landed on the western end of St. Croix. In his note, he described what he saw as he explored. Moth wrote that he “found the land on the West End quite lovely and walked about a mile inland to take a look at the famous plantation Le Grange, which is accounted to be the best in the land. The walls of all the buildings are still visible and in part sound, a fine river runs by all through the year.”
The small river Moth mentioned in his notes 286 years ago is referred to today as La Grange Gut. On the southeastern side of Frederiksted town, there was another small river that met “Pond Bush,” which deposited at West End Bay, north of Fort Frederik. The area was known by Crucians as “Harden Gut,” located in west Concordia Estate.
“The Harden Gut just outside of town (West End) was a gurgling and vivacious body of clear, clean water in which the town’s laundry was washed,” the late Crucian naturalist George A. Seaman wrote in his book “Ay-Ay: An Island Almanac.”
Haven for wildlife
Pond Bush marshland was a heaven for wildlife. It was there, as a little boy, Seaman observed his first sandpiper. And talk about callaloo crabs!
There were thousands and thousands of crabs in the swampland or mangrove forest where Paul E. Joseph now stands. In fact, near St. Patrick’s School in Frederiksted, you can still find crab holes that survived the destruction of the “Pond Bush” ecosystem. If you hike past the narrow area in the back of St. Patrick’s School, you will still find some callaloo crabs crawling through the small swamp area foraging for food.
What remains of “Pond Bush” is the narrow strip of waterway that divides King Street to the northwest shoreline, better known locally as Emancipation Road. Every year, the Crucian Christmas Festival Village sits north of the narrow waterway. One year, I got a call from a colleague from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. A fresh water shrimp locals refer to as “Kribeshee” or “gut lobster” was found deep in the ground as someone was digging a hole to plant a post in the village.
I explained to the person that where the Crucian Festival Village sets up was once a wetland. Surprisingly, the fresh water shrimp that was caught was still alive, although it was caught deep below the ground’s surface.
Nonetheless, the proposed site for the sport complex is a major floodplain zone area. Every time we get heavy rain — especially for days and weeks — the field of Paul E. Joseph and the surrounding area is under water. The path of the flowing small rivers now dries most of the year and needed to be constructed in such a way that it wouldn’t impact the facilities of the sport complex.
The mangrove was a natural buffer between the bay and the land. As the water flows from the surrounding hills and mountains, the wetland slows the water, which creates less impact on the marine environment. We need men and women with good engineering skills and knowledge of the area and history of the site landscape where the sport complex is protected as well as the surrounding environment.
The old people say “water don’t turn corners.” When the rain comes, the flood will come with it. We didn’t need to waste $16 million to know what any Frederiksted resident over 50 knows: Paul E. Joseph Stadium was being built on a flood zone. Any politician or government agency that says differently is not being honest with the public.