Feb. 26, 2004 About 85 East End residents and supporters gathered at Vessup Bay beach on Wednesday evening to express their displeasure at the proposed sale of one of the few pristine, undeveloped beaches remaining on St. Thomas.
The gathering, sponsored by the Red Hook Community Alliance, sought to deter the plans of a Miami-based developer to build across Vessup Bay, Muller Bay and Cabrita Point.
Lionstone Hotels and Resorts recently purchased land in Cabrita Point and Muller Bay. Andrea King, president of the Red Hook Community Alliance, told the group on Wednesday that Lionstone's owner, Alfredo Lowenstein, also has a contract to purchase 16 more acres of land surrounding Vessup Bay beach by June 23. Lowenstein is also negotiating to purchase the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, King said.
King said she does not know what Lionstone's plans are for developing the land. The company manages and owns seven hotels in Florida and the Caribbean.
"If you want to see one last beach remain pristine, we have to be verbal," King said. "We don't need another Miami development on this island."
King said although hotels allow public access to their resort beaches, it's not the same. The residents are restricted in what they can do on the beach. King said you're not allowed to barbecue or play your own music at the resort beaches, as has been done at Vessup for years.
Ellen Stewart, a Vessup Bay resident at the gathering, echoed King's sentiments.
"People are not made to feel welcome at the resort beaches," Stewart said. "We're not against development; it's just out of control. We need to keep our green space."
Stewart is president of the newly established East End Environmental Association.
Jeffrey Weiss, a local attorney, also addressed the crowd on the potential environmental harm that could occur from development around the beach. Weiss, an East End resident, had fought against the government putting up temporary housing units in the Nazareth area in the aftermath of Hurricane Marilyn.
Weiss said the area is home to endangered species including the Virgin Islands tree boa and the green sea turtle.
The tree boa is a harmless boa constrictor that dwells in trees in the area, Weiss said. "If we cut down all the greenery, we're going to destroy this species,"
Vessup Bay Beach is the last beach "on this side of the island" that is open, Weiss said.
But he warned those present: "If we fight this legally, it will come at a cost. You're going to have to reach into your pockets to help us."
Carla Joseph, president of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John (EAST), pledged to assist the group in its efforts.
"It's really applaudable that you have come together like this at this time," Joseph told them. "This is just not one issue on St. Thomas; this is an issue territorywide."
Joseph said she was pleased at the turnout of supporters, adding that community support has been lacking for EAST.
King and others passed out lists of telephone numbers of various senators and urged those present to call the legislators and urge them to work on protecting the beach.
Sens. Lorraine Berry and Louis Hill were in attendance; so was Nicole Bollentini from Sen. Adlah Donastorg's office, representing her boss.
Berry said she is not sure what the status of the property is, but the Legislature could "look into" getting the government to purchase the land.
"I don't think we should let the beach go to any private developer," she said.
Hill said he came to listen to what those present had to say. "We will try to work through the legislative process in addressing their concerns," Hill said.
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