As promised, here is a quick update from last night’s meeting regarding the future of Caneel Bay…
- The room was packed with a mixture of Caneel Bay employees and members of the community.
- Congresswoman Stacy Plaskett, who authored the proposed Bill to extend Caneel’s Retained Use Agreement (RUE) for 60 years, did not show up.
- The audience overwhelmingly stated that they wanted Caneel to reopen as a resort. Caneel remaining a resort appears to be a non-issue. It’s the terms of their new lease that’s the issue.
- Caneel representatives said they are only interested in a 60-year lease. When pressed about potentially agreeing to say a 30 or 40 year lease, they maintained their stance on a 60-year lease.
- Caneel maintained that the most expeditious way to reopen Caneel was to have the 60-year RUE extension. Joe Kessler, president of the non-profit group Friends of the VI National Park, staunchly disagreed and stated that the Caneel should follow Congress’s 2010 recommendation which calls for the lease to go out to the highest bidder as a concession agreement. He stated that this should be occurring now, rather than waiting to see if Congress may or may no pass the proposed Caneel Bill. (Click here to read that Act.)
- Several Caneel employees expressed displeasure with CBI Acquisitions, Caneel’s current operator, saying that the company treated them poorly before and after last fall’s hurricanes. Caneel representatives acknowledged that they’ve made mistakes in the past.
- Several employees expressed displeasure regarding Caneel’s yearly seasonal closure, in which CBI Acquisitions lays off nearly half (if not more) of its employees, forcing them to collect unemployment during Caneel’s closure. Pam Gaffin, a longtime St. John resident, stated that this is forcing the Virgin Islands Unemployment Fund “to tank” and that it is also forces all Virgin Islands businesses to pay an additional $175 per person, per year so Caneel can lay off its employees.
- Pam Gaffin also reiterated how Caneel does not pay any taxes to the Virgin Islands government and that it is in violation of its EDC agreement with the Territory.
- The term “union busting” was thrown around quite a bit. An employee who represents Caneel’s union stated that all union employees received a letter stating that they would only receive severance benefits after the storms if they signed the letter which essentially terminated their employment, not allowing them to be brought back to work when Caneel reopened. It was stated that non-union employees received their severance without being asked to sign the letter. Caneel representatives denied having knowledge of this.
My takeaway from last night’s meeting: This is going to be a long and arduous process.