Dec. 16, 2003 – The gate of the new chain-link fence cutting off public access to Lindqvist Beach by land is open, but the issues it has come to symbolize remain to be resolved.
Agreement reached by Planning and Natural Resources Department officials and representatives of the property owners resulted in the gate being unlocked on Friday. The agreement, both say, was for the owners to comply with an order to restore public access to the beach in return for the government putting a hold on the assessment of fines at the rate of $20,000 a day for violation of the Coastal Zone Management Act.
What happens next will hinge on the outcome of a hearing on legal and monetary issues of the conflict. An aide to DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett said on Tuesday that a date has yet to be set for the hearing.
Plaskett also has agreed to review plans for a 24-home development unveiled by V.I. Investments, the owners of the 21-acre beachfront property, last week. But both sides say this was not a factor in the opening of the security gate.
Henry Feuerzeig of the law firm Dudley Topper and Feuerzeig, which represents V.I. Investments, said on Tuesday that the development plans did not enter into the agreement.
"The agreement was that we would open the gates," he said, and "the fines going forward would cease. We would be granted a hearing where we would litigate the appropriateness of the NOVA [notice of violation] in the first place, and that … [we] would also litigate the amount of the fine."
Confirming DPNR's part of the deal, Plaskett said that "it is the position of the department that once the fence remains open, we will not add any additional penalties" to those already assessed for violation of the CZM Act and, later, of Plaskett's order to take down the fence, which was erected in mid-November.
V.I. Investments petitioned Plaskett on Dec. 10 to rescind the notice of violation and grant the owners an immediate hearing. Plaskett rejected both demands but said CZM rules allow for a hearing within 30 days of a notice of violation. (See "DPNR rejects Lindqvist Beach owners' demand".)
The fines assessed to date — initially at the rate of $10,000 a day and then, by Plaskett's order, at double that — add up to at least $260,000.
Feuerzeig said it is the company's position based on the facts "that any fine of that magnitude simply is unjustified and, equally important, nothing in the law justifies [a fine] of that magnitude."
Plaskett said his agreement to review the development proposal is contingent on resolution of the matter of the fines first. "We will not entertain any plans for development until this situation with the violations has been rectified," he said on Tuesday. "We will accept the application, and we will deal with it at that time."
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.