So as you all know, we’re not too happy with what’s going on at Caneel Bay. The resort remains closed; very little cleanup has occurred; and the leaseholder wants $70 million to walk away. They also want protection from any “environmental liability”. Hello red flag.
We wrote back in October that a major sticking point in the lease negotiations between CBI Acquisitions (the current leaseholder at Caneel Bay) and the National Park Service had to do with the presence of hazardous waste on the 170-acre property. CBI has known for at least five years that there was hazardous waste on the property, yet it appears CBI Acquisitions has done nothing to address this issue.
At this point, we are going to defer to our friend Kurt Repanshek of National Parks Traveler. Kurt posted a story earlier today that details some of the hazards present on the Caneel property and how CBI was aware of the environmentally-concerning situation all the way back in 2014. Rather than reinvent the wheel here, we’re going to cite Kurt directly.
Here is a portion of what he wrote today in National Parks Traveler.
Nearly two years since a one-two hurricane punch pounded Virgin Islands National Park and ravaged the high-end Caneel Bay Resort, secrecy shrouds not just the future of the resort but the extent of environmental contamination of its grounds.
National Park Service authorities acknowledge there is some environmental contamination at the resort that requires following the guidelines of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. But they have been silent as to what, if any, progress has been made in determining the extent of the contamination and whether any cleanup has occurred.
For its part, CBI Acquisitions, LLC, the subsidiary of Stoneleigh Capital that operates the resort, not only wants to wash its hands of the storm-battered resort, but wants $70 million in compensation and indemnification from any environmental problems there.
After giving some background on the lease, how it’s supposed to revert to the Park in 2023 and how CBI sought a 60-year RUE extension but failed, Kurt continued…
Those extension efforts, unsuccessful so far and possibly facing greater headwinds now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, have overshadowed what, if any, efforts the National Park Service has made to see the property revert to its oversight as Rockefeller intended.
Also out of the public’s eye is the environmental condition of the property. When Rockefeller structured the RUE that allowed the Caneel Bay Resort to be operated for private profit, among the provisions he saw inserted was the requirement that the operator use and maintain the grounds in a way that is “consistent with the preservation of such outstanding scenic and other features of national significance, and preseve the Premises to the extent feasible in their natural condition for the public benefit, enjoyment, and inspiration…”
Whether that has been done is questionable.
Initial documents Traveler obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request included a 2014 environmental assessment of the Caneel Bay Resort property that raised questions of contamination from SVOCs — semivolatile organic compounds — often related to pesticides, and arsenic. “In addition, there are concerns for leachability of SVOCs, arsenic and mercury to groundwater,” the report noted.
The surveys also found concentrations of total petroleum hydrocarbons and diesel range organics above acceptable levels set by the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
While the assessment called for more extensive testing to determine the extent of these contaminants — both across the ground surface and to determine depth of contamination — records Traveler obtained said CBI had refused to allow a contractor for the Park Service to access the grounds to perform further testing.
Those May 2017 briefing notes made by Gordy Kito, the Park Service’s leasing program manager, pointed out that “(T)he Department of Interior Solicitors Office believes that the NPS has the right to access the property to drill test wells.” But at the time, no follow-up request for access had been made.
While Traveler’s FOIA request has not been answered completely by the Park Service — it was delayed by the partial government shutdown earlier this year and, more recently, by litigation involving a different orgnization’s FOIA request — agency Service personnel in Washington, D.C., and the Park Service’s Southeast Regional Office have been unable to say whether additional testing has been done.
But the specter of serious environmental contamination of some extent to the resort property that fronts its namesake bay with its sugar-sand beaches and turquoise waters was raised by Rep. Plaskett late last month when she announced in a press release that CBI has asked to be paid $70 million to be released from the RUE and wants to be indemnified “from any environmental claims … ” (emphasis added.)
Plaskett issued the release on May 30 to inform her constituents that she had written Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to formally request that Interior provide her with “full transparency” concerning Caneel Bay Resort, CBI’s request that it be allowed to terminate the RUE and walk away, and Interior’s response to that request.
The Park Service and CBI Acquisitions supposedly have been trying for years to reach a lease agreement to succeed the RUE. While Engle told a congressional committee a year ago that the Park Service has never engaged in “substantive discussions” about a successive lease agreement beginning in 2023, Traveler has learned that Jo Pendry, the former chief of the Park Service’s concessions program, had made trips to the Virgin Islands as long ago as 2010 to discuss a lease with CBI.
- CBI, the leaseholder of Caneel, has known since at least 2014 that there has been hazardous waste on the property, but refused to allow representative from the National Park Service access to address it.
- CBI, the leaseholder of Caneel, has known since at least 2014 that there has been hazardous waste on the property, but has not cleaned it up.
- CBI, the leaseholder of Caneel, wants to walk away and does not want to address the hazardous waste that’s been on the property CBI has controlled since 2004.
- CBI, the leaseholder of Caneel, told a congressional committee that the Park Service has never engaged in “substantive discussions” regarding lease agreement beginning in 2023; yet the former chief of the Park Service visited St. John as far back as 2010 to engage in such discussions.
- CBI, the leaseholder of Caneel, has done very little in terms of hurricane cleanup on the property.
- CBI, the leaseholder of Caneel, continues to restrict access to the public beaches located within the property.
- CBI, the leaseholder of Caneel, has refused to pay pensions to many of its deserving employees.
And now CBI wants $70 million to walk away and they want to be held harmless with regard to the hazardous waste on the property which is potentially polluting our ocean. Shouldn’t CBI be paying to clean this property up??
Dear Gary Engle (I know you read NOST), please just walk away. You treated your employees poorly. You treated this community poorly. You are treating the land your resort sits on poorly. You don’t deserve a dime. If anything, you owe us.