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.