House Committee Approves Caneel Bill

caneel dock dec 2017

Well this doesn’t make me happy. But there is still a long way to go before this Bill becomes law. And before I share all the details, I would like to remind everyone that this is a blog, not a newspaper. So I am allowed to say that I think this Bill is garbage, and I will continue to do so. Heck, I can write about my dog all day if I’d like. And somedays I’d love to because he’s so darn cute! But ok, back to the news…

Because my days as a real political reporter are over, I’m going to let my new friend Kurt Repanshek, who writes the National Parks Traveler, fill you in on all the latest details. Here is what he posted earlier today…

House Committee Approves Legislation Supporting Caneel Bay Resort

By Kurt Repanshek on March 7th, 2018

Legislation to allow a private equity firm to continue to run the Caneel Bay Resort at Virgin Islands National Parkfor 60 years passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, but without language that would have required the company to ensure its activities were “consistent with all applicable laws and policies of the National Park Service.’’

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the committee, said time was of the essence in extending the “Retained Use Estate,” a rental agreement unique not only to Caneel Bay Resort but apparently to the entire National Park Service.

The language in the RUE, which the late Laurance S. Rockefeller drafted and put into effect in 1983 after he donated some 5,000 acres to the government to create Virgin Islands National Park, allowed for the resort to be run as a private operation for 40 years. But in 2023, according to Mr. Rockefeller’s document, the resort was to be turned over to the National Park Service.

Congress told the Park Service in 2010 to weigh whether it was better to transition the operation to a concessions arrangement rather than an RUE, and in 2013 the agency issued a draft environmental assessment that called for such a transition. That EA was never finalized, as the Park Service was trying to negotiate a lease with CBI Acquisitions, Inc., which managed the resort for Stoneleigh Capital, a private equity firm that assumed the RUE in 2004. Those negotiations have never been finalized, for reasons Park Service personnel have been unable to explain.

Under CBI’s management, the resort, with room rates starting around $600 a night, has brought an estimated $65 million a year to St. John and employed about 500, according to Congresswoman Stacy Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, who in December introduced legislation to have the RUE extended 60 years so CBI could raise the money needed to rebuild the resort, which was battered last fall by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

During a hearing last week by the House Federal Lands Subcommittee, Gary D. Engle, Stoneleigh’s CEO, said CBI needed a long-term commitment to make rebuilding the resort feasible.

On Wednesday, Rep. Bishop agreed.

“The devastating hurricane destroyed the building. So if they’re going to rebuild it, they have to know they’re going to be able to be there for a long period of time,” he said, alluding to the upcoming expiration of the RUE in 2023. “Five years is not going to do it. This resort is important. Not only to the Park Service, but it’s extremely important to the Virgin Islands and to rebuild their economy. This is a significant issue and it should not be held up in any particular way.”

Congressman Bishop did amend the bill to have the rental fee determined by a fair market appraisal rather than just the 1.2 percent Rep. Plaskett sought.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the committee, tried to have the bill amended to give the Park Service authority to ensure that any construction or management activites at the resort or the 170 acres it sets on “are consistent with all applicable laws and policies of the National Park Service.’’

In compiling the EA in 2013, Park Service staff voiced various concerns over continuing to operate the resort under the RUE, in part because it didn’t prevent resort expansion.

“(T)here is a risk of damaging resources at the resort since NPS would not be involved in the management of the resort before the expiration of the RUE. The RUE owner could undertake construction or other actions that may result in resource damage or loss,” the EA said, pointing to both archaeological and natural resources on the land.

Rep. Grijalva told the committee Wednesday that as written the bill “lacks some necessary provisions making it potentially unworkable and unlikely to be enacted by Congress.”

The effect of the RUE “is that a significant part of the national park, which is owned by all Americans, is open to only the very wealthiest visitors in the world,” he said.

Additionally, Mr. Grijalva pointed out, the Park Service “was eventually supposed to own the resort as well. (It) has little or no ability to ensure the resort is operated consistent with the laws and policies governing all other national parks. In addition, the RUE allows a single private owner to enjoy a monopoly on revenue from the resort and to avoid any competition with other possible management entities that might be better positioned to provide the best services to visitors. HR 4731 simply extends the status quo, using the storm damage as a justification for failing to reexamine the RUE.”

But Rep. Bishop spoke against Rep. Grijlava’s amendment, saying that language was too vague and gave the Interior secretary too much leeway to manage activities on the property. By voice votes the committee, which is controlled by the GOP, voted in favor of Congressman Bishop’s amendment and rejected Rep. Grijalva’s.

Not addressed by the full committee Wednesday was how much insurance coverage it had both for storm damage to the resort as well as for “interruption of business,” and why CBI needed to raise $100 million.

We will keep you posted on this folks.

On the Market: Another Price Reduction; Bring Offers


We told you about today’s listing just over a month ago. Well since then, they sellers have reduced the list price and are extremely motivated to sell this property. They are considering any and all offers. Please check it out…

Recently listed for sale are two masonry, hurricane-damaged homes that have five bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms total. These homes, located just minutes from Cruz Bay, have spectacular sunsets over town and out to Pillsbury Sound and St. Thomas.

view damaged roof

blue roofs

home damaged

The home is located on a private, end of the road spot, and is within walking distance to the restaurants, shops, beaches and ferry dock in Cruz Bay.

Once repairs have been completed, you can use the main house and guest house as short term rentals, or live in one while renting the other. This property features separate entrances and pathways that connect the two homes. It also has two separate parking areas.

This property is now being offered listed for $849,000 and is being sold as is/where is with all faults and defects. For more information, please contact John McCann of 340 Real Estate Co. at for more information.


Six Months Later


It’s hard to believe that today marks six months since Hurricane Irma ripped through our island and changed our world forever. A lot has happened here over the past six months; A lot of good has happened here over the past six months. Karen Granitz, the owner of Oasis in Coral Bay, said something to me last October that really struck me. “Even on our darkest days,” she said, “we are still the most beautiful place in the world.” And you know what, those words could not be truer, both in the beauty of this island, the beauty of its people, and the beauty of all of those who came to our aid.

Over the past few days, I’ve spoken with a lot of people who’ve been reflecting on the past six months. All have admitted that we’ve had some trying times, but many have also stated that the past six months have been filled with hope, happiness and a renewed faith in humanity. A lot of that is a credit to all of you. We felt your love from near and far. Thank you for that.

If you said back on September 7th that this island would be buzzing six months later, I’m not sure everyone would have believed you. I never doubted that the island would come back, that the people would come back, but I’m not sure anyone expected it to happen as quickly and in the manner in which is has. The progress that has happened over the past six months is remarkable. That is a credit to the people who live here, to those of you who supported us from afar, to the amazing organizations and nonprofits here on island, and to those in the States who came to our aid. Again, thank you.

The island is as stunning today as it was on September 5th in my opinion. Our beaches are busy once again. Our restaurants are full. Our charters boats are packed. Our villas and condos are hopping. Sure we’re not where we were one year ago, but progress is being made each and every day. It’s really amazing to see. Here are a few pics we’ve recently taken that show the sheer beauty and resilience of this island:

Cruz Bay

Cruz Bay

Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park

North Shore Road

North Shore Road

Peace Hill

Peace Hill

Caneel Bay and beyond

Caneel Bay and beyond

Trunk Bay

Trunk Bay

Coral Bay

Coral Bay



East End

East End

Gorgeous, right?

Sure we have work to do, and no, we are not perfect. But we’re getting there day by day.

So as you can see, big things have been happening here on island over the past six months. Oh and we have one more big thing to tell you all. News of St. John is expanding this summer…

baby news

That’s right, we’re having a hurricane baby! How exciting is that??!! So again, a lot of good has happened over the past six months.

Again, I wanted to say thank you to all of you who love St. John, to all of you who have supported us over the past six months, to all of you who have visited us and to all of you with trips planned. We would not be here today without all of you and for that I am forever grateful.

Have a wonderful Tuesday everyone. :)

Caneel Bay: Breaking It Down

caneel bay entranceOk, so I believe that all of you read our story yesterday about Caneel Bay. There seems to be a bit of confusion as to what would happen if the proposed Bill does not pass Wednesday. Here is everything you need to know broken down:

  • If this Bill does not pass, it does not mean that Caneel Bay will be shut down forever, nor does it mean that the property cannot operate as a resort.
  • Congress decided several years back that Caneel Bay should operate under a concession agreement, not under a retained use agreement, which is what is has operated under since 1983. A concession agreement does not mean a hot dog stand for lack of a better term. Caneel can still operate as a full service hotel under a concession agreement. 
  • Plaskett’s proposed Bill calls for a 60-year retained use agreement and proposes that Caneel pay mere 1.2 percent to the federal government.
  • No other hotel located within the US National Parks operate under a retained use agreement as Caneel currently does. All operate under concession agreements. Again, this is what Congress deemed would be best for the USVI, the Virgin Islands National Park, and the people and employees in the USVI.
  • At the Grand Canyon National Park, the company that operates the hotels on the South Rim operate under a concession agreement. It is a 15-year agreement and they pay 8% back to the government. 
  • At Yellowstone National Park, the company that oversees it pays 4.5 percent, but they also pay a 6 percent annual contribution to a maintenance account. This is a 20-year agreement. They, too, operate under a concession agreement.
  • Back in the USVI, Redwoods, who runs Cinnamon Bay, was given a 15-year lease and pays 2.5 percent. Caneel Bay Watersports has a 10-year lease and pays 4 percent. Paradise Agua Tours (runs the rental hut at Trunk Bay) has a three-year lease and pays 3 percent.

So two of our largest hotels operating within the US National Parks operate under a concession agreement. Every other business operating within the Virgin Islands National Park does too. So why shouldn’t Caneel? The answer is, they should.

  • If the proposed Bill does not pass, the concession agreement for Caneel Bay would go out to bid in an open marketplace. This is a good thing. If this happens, it is extremely likely that the winning bidder would pay a significantly higher rate than the measly 1.2 percent proposed in Plaskett’s Bill. This money would go directly to the Park Service, which is dire straights these days.
  • If this proposed Bill does pass, Caneel can continue to operate as an EDC (economic development commission). EDC benefits are meant to bring new businesses to the USVI and as a thank you, they get tax breaks. This is meant to be a short-term thing. Caneel, however, has been operating as an EDC for decades. They have also been doing so illegally. For starters, in order to qualify as an EDC, you need to have a certain amount of full-time employees. Caneel lays off its employees every year from late August to November 1st; therefore they are not full time and do not qualify for EDC benefits, yet they continue to receive them. This has also contributed to the depletion of the VI Unemployment Fund forcing the USVI to borrow heavily from the federal government – all while the operators of Caneel Bay continue to line their pockets.
  • Because Caneel is receiving EDC benefits and will continue to do so if Plaskett’s Bill passes Wednesday, it does not have to pay property tax, income tax, excise tax or gross receipts tax to the USVI government. This equals millions of dollars a year.
  • Caneel Bay charges a 12.5 occupancy tax as required by USVI law. Caneel itself, however, does not pay this tax, the person renting the room does.
  • So if you stayed at Caneel just one night, you have paid more taxes to the USVI government than Caneel has the entire time it has been a resort.
  • People are concerned about jobs at Caneel. If this Bill passes Wednesday, it does not mean that the laid off employees will return to work.
  • Did you know that the gardeners who have worked for Caneel Bay for years only make $9 an hour? If Plaskett’s Bill does not pass Wednesday and a new company wins the bid for a new concession agreement, I am pretty certain that the employees will be treated more fairly than they have under CBI Acquisitons rule and they will be paid better.
  • When CBI Acquisitions laid off its employees permanently following the storms, it only gave severance to employees for the time it has managed the resort. That means that people who have worked for Caneel for 15, 20, 25 years and more did not receive the full severance they should have been entitled to.
  • Should Plaskett’s Bill pass, the 1.2 proposed fee sounds like it would be an improvement as they currently pay nothing. However the Bill also calls for them to be able to reduce this percentage by doing regular maintenance among other things. So in the end, they will continue to pay nothing.
  • If the proposed Bill passes, the Park Service will continue to have no oversight on the 170-acre parcel. That means that the operators could tear down the historical ruins on property, continue to cut off access to the public beaches and build high rises anywhere on the property if they’d like.
  • This tactic of shuttering the property and using it as a bargaining chip isn’t new for Caneel. They did so after Hurricane Marilyn too. Because Caneel Bay has two-year interruption insurance, they lose nothing by remaining closed. In fact, they remained closed for the full two years following Marilyn because they could. So who loses in this situation? Certainly not Caneel. We lose. The employees lose. The shop owners lose. The restaurants lose. The charters lose. Everyone loses but the operators of Caneel Bay.
  • Side note: Caneel is currently housing BBC employees and has been housing relief workers since September. It is receiving a very high nightly rate for these stays. The storm damage isn’t preventing them to continue to profit. This demonstrates that part of Caneel is currently habitable and therefore it laid off all its employees by choice, not because it was forced to.

So hopefully by now, you see why this Bill is not in the best interest of the USVI; it is not in the best interest of the VI National Park; it is not in the best interest of the former Caneel Bay employees; it is not in the best interest of anyone except those who are set to profit off of Caneel Bay and that is solely the CBI Acquisition group.

So again, I implore you to reach out to your Congressman or either call the Committee of Natural Resources at (202) 225-2761 or email them here. Here is the direct link:

Please refer to H.R. 4731. That is the name of Plaskett’s bill.

If You Want to Preserve Caneel, We Need Your Help

(Image taken in December 2017)

(Image taken in December 2017)

Hello everyone and happy Sunday! Last week we told you about the current situation over at Caneel Bay and how CBI Acquisitions, LLC, the company that is currently managing Caneel, is trying to obtain a 60-year extension on the Retained Use Estate (RUE) agreement with the help of Congresswoman Stacy Plaskett. There are so many things wrong with this. For starters, when Laurence Rockefeller signed over the Caneel parcel to the US government for $1 back in 1983, he did so under the assumption that the property, its buildings and its facilities would be turned over to the Virgin Islands National Park in 2023. CBI and Plaskett are trying to prevent that from happening. Second, in 2010, Congress determined that the current RUE agreement was not in the best interest of the VI National Park and that it should be converted to a concession agreement. CBI and Plaskett are trying to prevent that from happening. Lastly, they are trying to convince the government that it is acceptable that CBI pay a mere 1.2 percent return to the federal government. (They currently pay nothing.) Not only is this absurdly low, but it is also in direct contradiction to what Congress determined back in 2010, which was that the return should be given to the Park Service, not the General Treasury. So yet again, CBI and Plaskett are working together and Plaskett, who is the Virgin Islands elected representative, is clearly not working on our behalf but working hand-in-hand with the people who will profit off of Caneel. Makes you wonder why now, doesn’t it…

Caneel is also saying that it needs $100 million to rebuild. This is nonsense. Caneel had insurance. Caneel also has a two year interruption policy. And the icing on the cake- Caneel did absolutely nothing to protect its property despite the fact that one of the strongest hurricanes on record was barreling right toward it. They did not board up windows, sliding doors, nothing. Again, makes you wonder why…

So you may be wondering at this point how you can help. Well it’s simple. We need you to write or get on the phone and voice your concerns. Congresswoman Plaskett’s bill is set to go before the House Natural Resources Committee this Wednesday. At that time, they will make a FINAL decision as to what the future is over at Caneel.

Please either call the Committee of Natural Resources at (202) 225-2761 or email them here. By clicking this link, you can fill out a quick form to let them know your thoughts. Please refer to H.R. 4731. That is the name of Plaskett’s bill.

The National Parks Traveler published a great article this morning that details everything wrong with what Plaskett is proposing. They attempted to speak with Plaskett several times, but she’s refused. Please take a few minutes and read it in its entirety. And then please get on the phone or start writing. We truly need your help with this.

Traveler’s View: Corporate Welfare At Caneel Bay In Virgin Islands National Park?
By Kurt Repanshek, National Parks Traveler

A private equity firm with global operations that include luxury hotels, ski resorts, and transportation interests such as shipping and railcars is on the brink of what appears to be a sweetheart deal to operate a luxury resort inside Virgin Islands National Park for just about the rest of the century.

While Laurance S. Rockefeller intended for the Caneel Bay Resort, which he built on St. John in 1956, to transfer to the National Park Service in 2023, the principals of Stoneleigh Capital, LLC, have convinced U.S. Rep. Stacy Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, that they’ll only rebuild the hurricane-battered resort if they can operate it for the next 60 years.

In return, Stoneleigh Capital subsidiary CBI Acquisitions, LLC, which generates about $65 million a year for St. John’s economy, will pay the federal government 1.2 percent on gross receipts.


But first, some history.

Mr. Rockefeller, a philanthropist and conservation giant whose support of the national parks movement spanned the country from Acadia National Park in Maine to Redwoods National and State Parks in California, fell in love with St. John during a cruise in the Caribbean. In 1956, he purchased 5,000 acres and gave it to the government to create Virgin Islands National Park, but held back about 170 acres on the island’s northwestern shore, the Caneel Bay Plantation, to create a resort.

Twenty-seven years later, on September 13, 1983, he signed the acreage over to the Interior Department, but crafted a “Retained Use Estate” to allow his resort to operate through September 2023. In that RUE document, he made clear his intent that the facilities eventually would become property of the national park.

Rep. Plaskett is willing to ignore his directive. Instead, she wants to extend that RUE for 60 years. And while it does call for CBI to pay the federal government 1.2 percent on gross revenues, her legislation would enable CBI to avoid paying the federal government anything if it spends money on preservation, maintenance, restoration, improvements, or repairs at Caneel Bay.

Put another way, if CBI builds additional facilities to serve the visitor base, those costs could be deducted from what would be owed the government. Routine maintenance — paint, gardening, repairing tennis courts, docks, etc. — all theoretically could be deducted from that fee.

And there’s a lot to maintain at the resort, where nightly room rates start around $600. Three restaurants, tennis and basketball courts, massage cabanas and beauty lounges, bars, a business center, a pool, a soccer pitch, trails, a dive shop, and a fitness center, plus 166 guest rooms. Most of those rooms were damaged by last fall’s hurricane duo, Irma and Maria. So much damage was done that the resort isn’t expected to open this year.

Nevertheless, simply maintaining and improving their bottom line could deduct from any revenues CBI would send the federal government for being able to operate from one of the most idyllic settings in the National Park System. So the deal Rep. Plaskett has put her name to isn’t that far off from the deal CBI has been operating under since 2004, when it assumed the RUE from Jackson Hole Preserve, a Rockefeller family nonprofit organization that had operated Caneel Bay. Under that deal, neither Jackson Hole Preserve, nor CBI, paid the government anything for benefitting from the tropical setting.

“In the amount of required capital and time required to redesign and rebuild, and the time required to reestablish a resort in a highly competitive marketplace, a minimum 60-year term is necessary,” Gary D. Engle, CEO of Stoneleigh and a member of the executive board that oversees Caneel Bay, told the House Federal Lands Subcommittee last week.

Mr. Engle uses the phrase “highly competitive marketplace,” but the fact is that Caneel Bay Resort is the only substantial resort on the island of St. John and the only one inside the national park. When one has to take a ferry ride to reach St. John and Caneel Bay, are hotels on St. Thomas or in the British Virgin Islands, hotels that also were damaged by the hurricanes, really competition?

There are a lot of holes in the existing RUE, and in the legislation Rep. Plaskett — who has ignored several requests from the Traveler to discuss the matter — to cause concern. There is nothing to prevent CBI from building new structures on the property, and no Park Service oversight to see that cultural, archaeological, and natural resources are not harmed, directly or indirectly, inadvertently or advertently.

And unlike other concession agreements in the park system, this proposal would run for 60 years — most Park Service concessions contracts typically run for a decade — and carries that absurdly low 1.2 percent return for the federal government (though after 15 years, it can be renegotiated, up or down).

How absurd is it? At Grand Canyon National Park, the Park Service sought a 14 percent franchise fee for concessionaires seeking to operate lodges on the South Rim before settling for 8 percent on a contract that runs 15 years. At Gulf Islands National Seashore, the Service sought a 9.2 percent franchise fee on retail operations. At Yellowstone National Park, the franchise fee is 4.5 percent, but the concessionaire, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, also has to provide a 6 percent annual contribution to a maintenance account. That contract, signed in 2013, is an outlier in that it runs for 20 years.

Beyond that, a St. John resident, Pam Gaffin, says CBI not only was insured for hurricane damage, but also carried “two years of business interruption insurance where they get paid to stay closed.”

“The other concessions in the park pay far more than what is being asked of Caneel — Redwoods, who actually invested money in Cinnamon Bay because Caneel had let it run down so bad, got a 15-year lease and has to pay 2.5 percent of gross receipts, Caneel Bay Watersports got a 10-year lease and pays 4 percent, Paradise Agua Tours has a 3-year lease and pays 3 percent,” Ms. Gaffin, who runs a tour business on the island, wrote in the News of St. John blog.

At the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, Phil Francis, who in recent days has talked to Park Service personnel involved in 2010 when Congress directed the agency to study converting the RUE into a concessions agreement, is concerned about Rep. Plaskett’s proposal.

“I have concerns about the length of the proposed agreement. I think that the fee should not be set in stone,” said Mr. Francis, who chairs the Coalition’s executive committee. “I think that periodic analysis should be done to detemine what the fee should be, just as would happen in a park concession.

“And I think if the RUE goes forward, there should be environmental protections included to ensure that the property within the boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park are protected,” he added Friday. “And I think there should be some control over the type of facilities that are constructed there to ensure that they are consistent with the national park.”

Mr. Engle shouldn’t be faulted for trying to leverage the best deal he can. After all, as he told the committee last week: “Running the resort as we did, and as I think we can, has a positive return on capital. In other words, I can make money, which is my line of business. I can make money running the resort.”

But at day’s end, the resort lies within Virgin Islands National Park, which is owned by all Americans who, if a $600-a-night luxury resort is to benefit from that national park setting, should be adequately compensated, and the natural, cultural, archaeological, and historical resources on that 170-acre property should be protected by the Park Service.

On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will take final action on Rep. Plaskett’s bill.

Rep. Plaskett can be reached via email or by phone at 202-225-1790.

Again, please either call the Committee of Natural Resources at (202) 225-2761 or email them here. Please refer to H.R. 4731. That is the name of Plaskett’s bill. Please help us preserve Caneel Bay. 

On the Market: Large Parcel Bordering National Park

land 3

Hello everyone and happy Saturday! Today we’d like to tell you about a very special piece of land that is now up for sale. It’s a large parcel, 2.5 acres in total, and borders the National Park. It also has beautiful views of St. Thomas and out to the Caribbean Sea. Here are the details straight from 340 Real Estate Co.:

A very special offering! 3 private, secluded parcels totaling 2.5 acres bordering National Park land with sweeping views that include the northern cays, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and St. Croix to the south. The flat, top parcel is 1.15 acres that borders National Park land with sweeping 180 degree St. Thomas/sunset/Cay/water views. There is a foundation, cistern, garage and waste treatment system. The other 2 adjoining parcels are .72(5TD) and .672(5K2) acres. 5K2 has access from lower Right Of Way parcel. Create a compound or sub-divide the parcels.

Here are a couple more pics and a map of this parcel:

land 1 land 2 pastory land map

This 2.5 acre parcel is listed for $1,745,000. For more information, please contact John McCann of 340 Real Estate Co. at for more information.