If you look for Caneel Bay Resort in the news, there unfortunately isn’t much in the way of updates as to the future of the beloved St. John resort. But, one man continues his diligent search for information on ongoing policies, politics and processes that may eventually decide the fate of the establishment that was once one of the largest employers in Love City.
In this first part of two Caneel Bay updates this week, we will give you some background on what has been going on with the property as reported by National Parks Traveler.
Kurt Repanshek, founder of National Parks Traveler, has been digging up info on Caneel since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the property in 2017. A self-proclaimed “news junkie,” Kurt saw Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett’s submission to legislation for a 60-year extension of the Retained Use Estate (RUE) in December of that year. He has been following, and reporting on, the progress of this conversation ever since.
National Parks Traveler, a non-profit media organization, is an amazing site full of useful information on policies and updates about all of our National Parks.
“National Parks Traveler is the world’s top-rated, editorially independent, nonprofit media organization dedicated to covering national parks and protected areas on a daily basis. The Traveler’s journalists work to inform the general public of environmental, scientific, and newsworthy developments surrounding, involving, and affecting these areas and their governing bodies.”
So, it only makes sense that Kurt would pick up on this controversial story…And follow it to the end.
There has been a lot of back and forth as to what has actually been happening behind the scenes with the luxury, beachfront accommodations on St. John’s North Shore. Kurt has done an amazing job of reporting information I haven’t seen elsewhere in a format that is objective and easy to follow (see links to his articles at the end of this post).
The month of September is an important one for past and the future of the property. September 2020 marks the three-year anniversary of the destruction of Caneel Bay by the infamous sister storms…It also marks a quickly approaching contractual deadline.
According to one of Kurt’s article from April 2020:
“In September 1983, Rockefeller crafted the language for the Retained Use Estate(RUE). Held initially by Rockefeller’s Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., the document clearly stated that the entire property would be turned over to the National Park Service on September 30, 2023.”
The RUE allowed for other management companies to take over during the course of the agreement and, in 2004, CBI Acquisitions did just that.
So, in three years, the resort should be turned back over to the park service. Since 2010, NPS has been leaning heavily towards a concessions agreement at the end of Rockefeller’s 40-year RUE. And has been in negotiations with Gary Engle, CEO of CBI Acquisitions, since then.
Engle has also been in negotiations with the Department of the Interior about extending the RUE. An extension of the RUE is in direct conflict with the wishes of the administrator of the agreement: Rockefeller.
Rockefeller’s wishes were for the NPS to obtain the rights to this beautiful property in the hopes that people could enjoy it. “I believe Rockefeller favored a concessions arrangement,” Kurt told me.
While an extension of the RUE would likely be in opposition to the dreams of the donor who founded the Virgin Islands National Park.
Negative impacts on tourism, the economy and the view from the overlook aside, the environmental effects of a stagnant Caneel Bay could be the greatest risk to the locale. Nearly a decade ago, studies were conducted identifying contamination and a disruption of the property’s many historical sites:
“Further complicating matters were studies in 2012 and 2014 that pointed to possible environmental contamination on the resort’s property related to decades-old dumping grounds, fuel tanks, underground storage tanks, and maintenance facilities. Those wastes ‘may pose a potential threat to the public through direct exposure,’” — From National Parks Traveler, September 13, 2020
It is unclear as to whether or not additional testing or inspections have been conducted. NPS and CBI Acquisitions have responded “no comment” to Kurt’s inquiries on these matters. What is not unclear is the potential negative impact to the health of the island’s reefs and residents.
“There’s a concern that he (Engle) might walk away from the resort (at the end of the RUE in 2023),” Kurt said to me over the phone last week.
Kurt speculates that, if this happens, the National Park Service could wind up with a huge cleanup bill. Or, there will be more litigation. And “Caneel will wallow.”
So, to date, the public and the residents of St. John are still in the dark in regards to fate of this enchanting property.
I would like to extend a huge thank you to Kurt for both his diligence in covering this topic and for his willingness to chat with me last week. My report is a very broad synopsis of what’s been happening. For more detailed information, please check out Kurt’s articles on Caneel Bay Resort as posted by National Parks Traveler.
Questions Remain Unanswered Over Caneel Bay Resort – March 2018
Paradise Lost at Virgin Islands National Park – December 5, 2019 – Updated Version
Interior Officials Still Trying to Settle Caneel Bay Resort’s Future – September 13, 2020
Stay tuned later this week for some additional updates about Love City community members and organizations and their actions to resolve matters at Caneel Bay.