So back in June, we told you how the leaseholder of Caneel Bay asked the Department of the Interior for a $70 million payout in exchange for them walking away and handing the resort back to the National Park Service prior to the expiration of their Retained Use Estate agreement. At the time, we stated how we thought the request was absurd. We adamantly oppose it.
Well late last week, Friends of Virgin Islands National Park chimed in on the matter. The non-profit organization, founded in 1988, “works with the National Parks Service to advance the protection and preservation of these natural and cultural resources, and to promote their responsible enjoyment,” according to its website. They, too, adamantly oppose the $70 million payout. Here is their statement in its entirety:
The economic health and vibrant quality of life on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, relies on a healthy and accessible Virgin Islands National Park (VINP). Caneel Bay Resort has been an important part of the history of St. John and VINP. As we move forward, the Caneel Bay property must continue to support a diverse and successful St. John economy and a healthy island and marine environment. We must make important decisions today that respect our history and protect the future of VINP and the economy of St. John.
CBI Acquisitions, LLC is the current holder of a 40-year Retained Use Estate (RUE) established by Laurance Rockefeller and set to expire in 2023. In 2010, Public Law 111-261 was passed that would allow CBI Acquisitions, LLC, as the current RUE holder to enter into a non-competitive lease of Caneel Bay Resort for up to 40 years. This law set up a very favorable business situation and a term length unheard of in the National Park Service, but recent public statements and demands to the Department of Interior have shown that CBI wants more, including a $70M payment and release from any liability from environmental contamination in return for walking away from the RUE and the Caneel Bay property.
As the builder of Caneel Bay Resort and person responsible for the establishment of Virgin Islands National Park, Laurance Rockefeller felt the property, upon expiration of the RUE, should fall back under control of the Secretary of the Interior and NPS, “for the use and enjoyment by visitors to the park of the outstanding scenic and other features of national significance located both within the premises and in other areas of the park.”
Friends of Virgin Islands National Park (Friends) holds the position that Mr. Rockefeller’s wishes should be honored and that the Caneel Bay property should return to the control of the National Park Service and VINP for the benefit of all. This would allow NPS to employ the range of concession and lease options that are typically implemented in National Parks across the country. If CBI wishes to terminate the RUE prior to 2023, Friends supports granting that request. We do not support any payment to CBI as it is clear CBI has not taken steps to reopen Caneel Bay Resort since 2017. Further, CBI should be held accountable for any environmental contamination of the property, acquired or contributed. The Friends believes it is vitally important to restore and reopen the Caneel Bay property as expediently as possible, in a manner that ensures long term protection of park resources and long term protection of a critically important part of St. John’s economy. We also believe a community visioning process to discuss desirable amenities, public access provisions, and cultural and natural resource protections should be initiated as an important opportunity to engage the residents of St. John.
Friends of Virgin Islands National Park stands ready to support and assist NPS, local and national political leaders and the St. John community in seeing the Caneel Bay property restored and reopened. We will only support such courses of action that ensure long term protection of Caneel Bay’s natural and cultural resources and a business model that benefits VINP and the greater St. John community.
We further wish to thank local VINP staff for their hard work and dedication to the Park, St. John and St. Thomas. We encourage everyone to recognize that decisions about the future of Caneel Bay are not being made by local NPS staff, and we look forward to supporting and working with them to help ensure all of our voices are heard.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Is Friends of VINP party to discussions that may or may not be happening between the Department of the Interior and CBI or other parties interested in the property in Washington DC?
No. We share the St. John community’s frustration regarding the lack of information about what discussions may or may not be taking place.
2. What is the Friends of VINP position on Caneel?
The Friends believes it is vitally important to restore and reopen the Caneel Bay property as expediently as possible, in a manner that ensures long term protection of park resources and long term protection of a critically important part of St. John’s economy.
3. What is the Friends doing?
Friends of VINP continues to work with local and national partners, like the National Park Conservation Association to keep abreast of any information that’s available. We have offered support to local and national decision makers in helping engage the St. John community to ensure our voices are heard. As new information becomes available, we will share it and call on our membership to support a position that ensures protection of the natural and cultural resources of the property and the economic vitality of St. John.
4. What can I do?
Contact your local and national representatives to make sure that they are doing whatever they can to ensure that both the economic and environmental concerns you and other community members have are heard.
Now we’re curious what you think. Please answer the poll below: