Dec. 12, 2003 – Confrontations concerning Lindqvist Beach heated up this week as lawyers representing the new property owners, V.I. Investments, demanded that the Planning and Natural Resources Department rescind a notice of violation assessing the company hefty fines for having put up a fence.
The company's motion, submitted by the law firm of Dudley Topper and Feuerzeig, was rejected outright by DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett, who said on Friday that he would neither take back the notice nor grant the company's request for an immediate hearing on alleged violations of the Coastal Zone Management Act.
DPNR officials say the principals of V.I. Investments violated the law by putting up the fence without a permit in a Tier 1 coastal zone. For that, Plaskett assessed a fine of $10,000 a day. Now he says he is doubling the daily fine to $20,000, "at least as long as the fence is blocking the road — not only for violating the law but they're also violating my order."
A hearing is tentatively set for Jan. 18 for V.I. Investments to make its case before the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee. Plaskett said if attorneys representing the investors want quicker action, they will have to seek a court order.
Plaskett also responded on Friday to comments made earlier by attorney George H.T. Dudley suggesting that the commissioner's actions on the Lindqvist matter were misguided and the result of bad advice given by DPNR staff.
"I think he's giving his clients bad advice," Plaskett said of Dudley. "In fact, people are acting at my direction."
In their motion to rescind the violation notice, company attorneys reasserted the argument made earlier that V.I. Investments acted within its legal rights in reconstructing an existing fence that has been a matter of public record since 1989. "Restoration of the fence and gates constitutes repair or maintenance of the fence that previously was located on the property and which was damaged by trespassers … and was performed in full accordance with V.I. Code," the motion states.
Company attorneys acknowledged receipt of a written request to meet with CZM staff before the "restored" fence was installed. But they said the Nov. 18 letter from Plaskett arrived after the fence work had been completed.
The company's motion contends that the notice of violation "not only is in derogation of the constitutionally protected property rights of the respondent, but is a denial of due process." The attorneys promised to demonstrate at the proposed hearing that DPNR's actions amount to selective enforcement of CZM law.
The argument over access to Lindqvist, a private beach that has long been a popular gathering spot for local residents, has been heating up since the sale of the property to V.I. Investments last year.
Steps taken by the V.I. government last year to buy the property ultimately failed. This week Attorney General Iver Stridiron shed some light on the missed opportunity. He said while the 24th Legislature was considering appropriating funds for the sale, separate attempts to acquire the property were being made by officials of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's administration.
Members of the governor's cabinet had asked a private philanthropist for funds to be used toward natural resources preservation, Stridiron said, but when the anonymous benefactor received word of the Senate's action, he withdrew his offer of support.
"Inadvertently, the appropriation of $3.5 million scuttled our ability to get the Trust for Public Land to buy the property for the Virgin Islands," Stridiron said. And then, he continued, it later became apparent that the $3.5 million appropriated by the Legislature — and signed into law by Turnbull — was not available.
In light of the current situation, Stridiron said, the administration may renew its attempt to obtain funds from private donors to help the government acquire the beach property. Public Finance Authority officials reportedly were in New York this week trying to secure $2.3 million from accounts holding bond proceeds, with the intention of using the money in an attempt to take possession of Lindqvist Beach by eminent domain.
Some administration officials are suggesting Dudley was right when he said the value of the property has increased since the sale last year and that the government would need more than the $2.6 million Stridiron alluded to as a fair market price to acquire the land through eminent domain proceedings.
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