After almost seven hours of testimony, legal arguments and recesses Friday evening, Territorial Court Judge Alphonso Andrews agreed to block the V.I. government-Beal Aerospace land swap for 10 days.
In his decision to grant a temporary restraining order, Andrews said the government was in "gross deviation" of the charitable trust under which Camp Arawak was held for the people of the territory. He also recognized that the land in question was once home to 75 enslaved Africans and now holds "sentimental" value to the residents who have filed to block the land exchange.
Therefore, he said, if the land was transferred to a private party and access limited it would represent irreparable harm, one of the factors needed to grant a temporary restraining order.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and 19 other plaintiffs had sought the injunction, to stop the transfer of 14.5 acres of prime government land to Beal Aerospace and its subsidiary Caribbean Space Technologies.
On Tuesday, the Legislature agreed to give Beal the government property, referred to as Camp Arawak, in return for the equivalent amount of acreage at Estates Whim and Grange Hill.
"This (Camp Arawak) land was occupied by the ancestors of the people of the Virgin Islands," Andrews said in his decision to grant Hansens request. "In 1974, the people who were descendants of those Africans forced into slavery were given the land. To those who can associate with and appreciate that history, it is a significant blow to their psyche to know that land is somehow being stripped of their possession."
He went on to say that the exchange could be "tantamount" to a home burglary where the residents stolen goods are later returned.
"Their sanctity, their peace and pride," Andrews said, "has been violated."
Soon after the start of the hearing at 1:30 p.m., Andrews postponed a decision on a motion by Beal attorneys Daryl Dodson and Adriane Dudley to allow the company to intervene in the suit, which is between Hansens group and the V.I. government.
Dodson argued that Beal has interest in the property and since the V.I. Attorney Generals Office is occupied with a variety of other cases and lacks adequate resources the company should be allowed to enter the suit.
"I think we have a right to come into this fight and have our licks as well," Dodson said. "To us, it is the most important case."
Ned Jacobs, the attorney representing Hansen, argued that since Gov. Charles Turnbull had yet to sign the land exchange agreement, Beal didnt have standing in the case.
"This action is between the taxpayer and the government," Jacobs said.
Andrews will decide on the motion next Thursday.
With Dodson and Dudley sidelined, Jacobs argued that the land exchange supported by Turnbull and approved by the Senate was illegal because:
- Camp Arawak land was deeded to the people of the V.I. in 1974 in "perpetuity" with the stipulation that it be developed as a public beach, park or other recreational use.
- The land the government would acquire in exchange for Camp Arawak is not comparable, especially considering its cultural, historical, archeological and environmental value.
- The exchange violates V.I. law that prevents the government from selling or trading shoreline property.
- The exchange violates the Revised Organic Act because it impairs an already existing contract — the trust.
Meanwhile, the governments attorney, Michael McLaurin, argued that issuing a temporary restraining order before Turnbull had signed the land exchange would usurp the authority of the executive branch. He said there was a possibility that Turnbull might find a flaw in the final amended land exchange bill and not sign it.
"For the judicial branch to stay the hand of the executive branch would do serious harm. It would affect the credibility and leadership" of the governor, McLaurin said. "The executive branch is entitled to due process at this juncture."
Despite McLaurins argument that the government would be harmed by a temporary injunction, Andrews said the plaintiffs would suffer more if the exchange is carried out.
When the 10-day temporary injunction expires, he will consider issuing a preliminary or permanent injunction.