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.

40 thoughts on “House Committee Approves Caneel Bill”

  1. Good coverage by Kurt Repanshek. I attended the hearing on the bill today and have to agree with everything Repanshek says but can add a couple of observations of my own. An amendment was proposed that would have given the Park Service some oversight. Rep. Bishop forcefully attacked it and it was shot down. He then quickly brought the bill to a vote and it was adopted without any real opposition. The whole debate was very speedy and the outcome a foregone conclusion. As soon as the vote was taken Rep. Plaskett left the room with a big smile on her face.
    It’s a nice job she has which i believe pays $174,000 a year plus benefits. Lots of benefits. But getting elected to Congress is expensive. Does anyone know where her campaign financing came from?

  2. they needed to be renovated – Caneel should be ashamed at how bad those rooms were – I paid $895 for a glam camping room – seriously——- but a 42 inch flat screen – technology – get a REAL pool – have 24 hr room service – for those prices they are highway robbers!! so sad this bill was passed by idiot Republicans!

    • What’s sad is that you went there and you don’t get it. No phones and no TVs is part of the allure. If you want a TV in your room, go stay at the Ritz.

      • David, you are so right! There are plenty of places that offer the glam experience. Don’t think Caneel guests looking for big TV’s and 24 hour room service. They are looking to get away, disconnect and have some quiet. Also, my observation is that there are lot’s of older folks who stay at Caneel and for whom a campground would be impractical and potentially quite challenging. (Does anyone have an older relative who has had a fall?) I do sense the animosity towards the Caneel guest on this blog. But the vast majority are not 1%’ers. They are people who have worked hard and saved their money for this wonderful vacation. They choose to spend their money on this special experience but probably don’t have tons of other luxuries in their lives. Caneel is definitely expensive but so are the other nice restaurants on St. John. Are they going away too? There are ads for million dollar plus homes on this blog — are the people buying those properties going to get the same negative vibe? We are coming down in April to support the island and volunteer. And were going to look at properties as a potential retirement place. But now not so sure what life in St. John would be like. Have been coming for 35 years and people have been super wonderful regardless of where we stayed — in younger years we were in small cottages with little cash, in later years at Caneel. Have never felt that we were being judged by our means (or lack of). Hope the island doesn’t lose this great feeling.

    • Harry,

      In my opinion, your opinions would have best been served and heard with the last sentence being omitted.

      Must we make these discussions political attacks? For your consideration the committee consists of 25 Republicans and 18 Democrats and a member of the Democratic Party sponsored the bill. Someone on the blog had commented on this subject in the original post that only the “1% ers” could afford to stay at Caneel. What does that say? Consider when former President Clinton visited the island, Jenn was forced to take down her Facebook page on it due to the political commentary. Seems if we had reasonable discourse on varying points of view we’d all be better off.

      At least the amended bill will put the fee to market value, if passed. I view that, at least, as a partial win.

  3. Thank you Captain Morgan for attending the hearing. It’s important to let our reps know that we are paying attention.

    Here is one site where you can check where their money is coming from. I did look at Delegate Plaskett’s donors when she ran for reelection in 2016. This issue hasn’t even been covered in the local media yet, so not sure many people were aware of the vote. She probably won’t get voted out because of this issue.


    • There are quality operators of echo resorts out there with a tradition of good service and food. A smaller, dedicated company, in my view, would be a better fit than a global fund. If only they were allowed to bid for this project. Hopefully someone can bring up the issue of open competition.

  4. I am in total agreement that Caneel should be paying money to the National Parks for the usage of the land. I find that disgraceful!

    What I am a little surprised by is that the island doesn’t seem to realize how much money those of us who stay at Caneel have put into the economy and don’t seem grateful for it. Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.

    We have stayed at Caneel once or twice a year for the past 15 years. We eat all lunches and dinners out and even sometimes breakfast, putting lots of money into the restaurants and bars. We rent jeeps and shop at all of the stores. We use boat charters every visit.

    Because we have come to love St John and all of it’s people, we have become dedicated to it’s charities. We have spent over $10,000 on villas through the Friend’s of the National Parks auction as well as the Animal Care Center auction. We have purchased Golden Tickets for help with cancer on island.

    We have given money to Love for Love City and St John Rescue as well as sending a generator after the horrible hurricanes.

    Think long and hard about what your economy would be like without people like us. I for one don’t feel much gratitude now for what my family has done for the island we love.

  5. Jintoo,
    I feel you about Hotel Rwanda. This place always reminds me of The Shining. That’s why I never stay at Caneel. It has nothing to do with the $900 room rate!!

  6. Next step is for anyone concerned to write to their congressional representative. I wrote mine ahead of the committee vote, but will be writing him again (and again) now that the bill will be moving forward. Hopefully others do the same. Thanks Jenn for the great reporting. Btw, if you ever do feel like doing a post all about your dog, I’m sure we’d all love to see it!!!

  7. Carol-As a fellow repeat guest at Caneel I can appreciate what you are saying. My husband and I along with another couple have been going to Caneel for the last 4 years and we too spend our money eating at the restaurants in Cruz Bay, shopping for provisions at Starfish, buying alcohol at the mini mart outside of Rhumb Lines, using our own taxi and water taxi service to get to and from STJ, not Caneel’s transportation, rent a Jeep from in town, and book boat charters. We have donated generators, contributed to the Love for Love City Foundation as well as supported some very special employees whom we have been fortunate enough to have made friends with over the years. I also agree they should be paying more to the NPS and their employees! I do hope Caneel will rebuild, so that those of us who come to stay there can continue to support the recovery of the island we love so much.

  8. What is the significance of this amendment (below) being rejected…can CBI rebuild and expand Caneel however they want? That seems counterintuitive to me when you consider the decision on whether to extend the RUE is or at least was supposed to be based on what is in the best interest of the National Park. Moreover, I think we can all agree that the driving force behind the passing of this RUE extension was what was best for the local economy.

    Look, I get it, jobs are important. I’m not against the RUE extension per se, but can’t they do with the spirit of the original RUE and in accordance with park standards?

    “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.’’

  9. Braggadocio about your big spending ways doesn’t impress me. And who brags about donating money??? Really???
    These are the kind of people we don’t need on island.

  10. There are now 2 Karens posting comments. I am someone who lives in the VI and has never stayed at Caneel and commented on Captain Morgan’s post.

    Carol, I am confused as to why the Caneel bill would make you think the people on island are not grateful for your visits?

    Very few locals are even aware of the Caneel bill. I had a discussion today with a well known old time St Johnian. She didn’t know the bill had been voted on in committee yesterday.

    She said our local senators are having a hearing on Monday and she wants me to be there. I haven’t checked the senate calendar yet to see what the specific topic is, but if she is going to be there it won’t be a boring session! She is opposed to the bill.

  11. Carol did we read the same article? Because for the life of me I can not see what instigated your diatribe.
    Very distasteful to say the least.

  12. CBI should be required to disclose how much insurance for property damage and for loss of business has been received–I heard from one source that 2 years loss of revenue was insured. Hard to discover the % ownership status with all the private entities involved.

Leave a Comment