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
Questions and Answers About the Future of Caneel Bay Resort – August 2018
Operators of Caneel Bay Resort Pressure Interior for Deal – June 2019
Virgin Islands Daily News: Plaskett’s Bill Delays Reopening of Caneel Bay Resort – September 2019
Paradise Lost at Virgin Islands National Park – December 5, 2019 – Updated Version
Caneel Bay Resort – Unceasing Efforts to Undo Laurance Rockefeller’s Wishes – April 26, 2020
Friends of Virgin Islands National Park Want Caneel Bay Resort to Revert to Park – August 2020
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.
6 thoughts on “Caneel Bay Update – Part 1 of 2 – National Parks Traveler Reports”
Thank you so much for this update!!!!!
Totally support a concessions agreement with table service restaurant if that will open up these beautiful beaches to all visitors to St.John. Charge for parking and for entry to help support maintenance.
In previous years we have visited for table service breakfast followed by beach time and table service lunch. Also, very nice toilets!! Made for a great day at the beach.
Let Them Leave. Start A Go Fund Me for the People of St. John to take over the Running of Caneel. I would Donate.
The concession model sounds good and lets the NPS have more control over the operator, but the concessionaire needs a facility in which to operate.
Further, many NPS concessionaires rely heavily on foreign workers as a source of cheap labor. I hope the NPS considers the impact on local residents as it relates to future operators importing labor versus employing local residents. Maybe that isn’t an issue anymore if former Caneel employees have found other employment?
Thank you so very much to the caring people who continue to update the people who love & visited this resort. It saddens me that this beautiful resort continues to be lost in so much red tape. From the instant we arrived at Caneel Bay for a family vacation, we were captured by the beauty we were going to live in for a few days. I love to watch people, and right away I noticed the “ families” who worked at the resort from morning through supper, especially the staff that prepared and served us meals. I met and spoke with many of them daily. I often prayed that they were able to find peace and other employment to help them survive. I will continue to pray for the people of St John and St Thomas. One video that was posted I watched showed the devastation- and the person they spoke to said that the minimal estimate to restore Caneel Bay was “ 84 million dollars” I purchase a lottery ticket weekly for the people of St.John – in hopes that before I have to leave this earth – I can see Caneel Bay restored to its glory.
I just heard today the owners have come to an agreement with the Government to proceed with renovations. Permitting will take about a yr. and then renovations about another 2 yrs.