Former legislator Elieene L. Parsons OBE recently sought to shift blame on the state of Ellis Thomas Downs and the current impasse that has resulted in a ban on its use to Third District Representative Honourable Julian Fraser RA.
Ms Parsons, an avid fan of horseracing, had said Hon Fraser should use funds allocated to his district to help repair the grandstand and restore the statue of Ellis Thomas that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma since September 2017.
She had also falsely stated that legislators are allocated $300,000 to execute works in their district.
Ms Parsons has been advocating for the Government of the Virgin Islands to legally take the land from the Thomas family after neither of the parties could come to an agreement on the way forward and the government subsequently terminated the agreement- although it has denied this- and the Thomas family placed a ban on the use of the track.
“The roof of the grandstands, why hasn’t that [been] fixed? It is in his area and [Hon Fraser is] talking that he is not going to go along with taking peoples’ land. You should be the one talking to that family and showing them the error of their ways and you should be backing the people of the territory who want to run the races down there,” Parsons has said.
According to Hon Fraser; however, Ms Parsons statements are erroneous.
“To that, I would say it is misleading. As a representative of the district, there was a time when I was Minister and had certain control over the track. I decided to maintain control over the upkeep and maintenance of the track and the many developments that were necessary.
“However, I made sure that I distanced myself from the administrative side which were the leases and the operations and whoever found themselves conducting any activities on the track, I distanced myself from that. I made sure I gave that to the Premier who was Minister of Finance, and a reason for doing that is because he has the wherewithal to do the negotiations that no other Minister would have,” Hon Fraser told our news centre in an exclusive interview.
Further, Hon Fraser related that when he was in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of Ellis Thomas Downs, he was responsible for resurfacing the track completely.
“I placed new rails around the track. The platform that covers the ghut between the grandstand and the track itself, I placed that there, all of it, so that people now can congregate in that area and maintenance of the facility was well done, whether it was the stables or what have you.”
He noted that, as District Representative, his role is probably non-existent as far as the track is concerned, adding that the track is under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth Affairs and Sports and the Ministry takes care of that. “There is no specific role at all for the District Representative.”
‘I put up statue of Ellis Thomas’- Hon Fraser
Regarding the destroyed statue of Ellis Thomas, Hon Fraser made it known that it was he who had it erected when he was a Minister and held certain responsibility for the track.
“I am the one who put that there when we named the track Ellis Thomas Downs, I did that too.”
The senior legislator noted that over the last recent years, starting when the National Democratic Party (NDP) came into office in 2011, a different approach was taken towards the maintenance and operation of the track, and the District Representative was left totally out of the picture.
“The operators of the track who facilitate horse racing, I guess they themselves opted to go the route with the Ministry and leave the District Representative out.
District Reps get $100K NOT $300K
Regarding comments by Ms Parsons that District Representatives received $300,000.00 and that Hon Fraser should use some of those funds to maintain the track, Hon Fraser said Ms Parson’s statement was not accurate.
“I saw mention [by Ms Parsons] of District Representatives getting $300,000.00 and they can use that to do things on the track, but it is not true. We don’t get $300,000.00. The last time I checked we had $100,000.00 and that is to do roads and that is under a different Ministry,” Hon Fraser clarified.
A matter for the Premier
Meanwhile, Hon Fraser maintains that the matter being resolved remains ultimately at the feet of Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr the Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7).
While all the details surrounding the lease agreement between Government and the Thomas family regarding the use of land occupied by Ellis Thomas Downs, Elaine M. Thomas-Griffith, the daughter of the late Ellis Thomas, had told our news centre in September that Government without warning had cancelled the contract due to what was termed as a “technicality”.
This resulted in the Thomas family placing a ban on the use of the track, due to liability concerns.
“My sources told me that it is the government not the landowner who terminated the lease. The lease has not run its course as yet. I understand that it is supposed to go until February of next year, but the government decided to terminate it, not the landowners.
“And the reason the landowner has decided to prohibit the use of the track is because of liability. The lease had immunity against any form of prosecution of the landowners. It indemnified the landowners, so if you withdraw the lease, it means that the landowners become exposed if there is any accident or anything on the track. So, they have made sure that they protect themselves by saying don’t use the track,” Hon Fraser explained.
He said he is aware the Thomas family has made efforts, even under the current circumstances, to get the Premier to agree under some form of condition to which the track could have been used.
“They had no intention of depriving people of the use of the track or else they would have done it in August and not after August [Tuesday Races].
“And even at this late stage maybe there is some salvage that can be done for Boxing Day Races, I am not sure because I am not involved,” Hon Fraser stated.
The statue of Ellis Thomas at Ellis
Thomas Downs in Sea Cows Bay was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in
September 2017 and has not been restored ever since.
There have been no horse races at Ellis
Thomas Downs in Sea Cows Bay since August 2, 2022, due to an impasse
between Government and the landowners over differences in the lease