May 25, 2004 – Sen. Louis Hill said the government does have the money to buy the Vessup Bay beachfront property, contrary to remarks made by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on Monday. And the president of a community alliance that lobbied for the acquisition charged that the governor has ignored the Legislature and "shunned the will of the people."
Turnbull line-item vetoed the spending source for acquiring the property — interest earned on debt service reserves — claiming the money already is obligated to meet General Fund expenses. The Senate on April 26 unanimously approved a bill appropriating $3 million from the interest earned on the reserves for acquisition of the Vessup Beach land. (See "Governor Vetoes Vessup Beach, Great Pond Funding".)
Hill said on Tuesday the money is available. "It is a matter of priorities," he said, adding that he was "disappointed but not discouraged" by Turnbull's action. "The dollars will be available in the fiscal year 2005 budget, which should soon be before us," he said.
But by acquiring the land now, Hill said, the government "would avoid the quagmire which currently surrounds the Lindqvist Beach property." That property was sold by one private owner to another in March of 2003, but the government wants to acquire it now under eminent domain. Meantime, the owners are in litigation with the government over a Coastal Zone Management permit. (See "Lindqvist CZM Permit Hearing to Be Continued".)
Since the Vessup Bay legislation was passed on a unanimous vote, Hill doesn't see a problem getting an override of Turnbull's veto. "I believe the Legislature will have the final say in this," he said, adding that he will move for an override in the next regular Senate session.
Later in the day Tuesday, in a release, Hill said: "I understand the great financial constraints that the government is presently under, but we must meet the challenges of leadership, adjust our spending priorities, and do the right thing to protect and preserve our people's quality of life."
There is no large inventory of sandy beaches that "we can wait to preserve tomorrow when our cash flow is better," Hill said. "If we do not make a decision now to protect some green space and sandy beaches, our legacy to future generations will be one of failure and neglect."
Also on Tuesday, Andrea King, president of the Red Hook Community Alliance, accused Turnbull of "failure, once again, to listen to the people of this territory." The grass-roots alliance collected 2,400 signatures on a Save Vessup Beach petition.
In a Source Op-ed commentary, King rejected the governor's statement regarding the money, saying that when Hill drafted the legislation, "he specifically earmarked these funds for this critical land acquisition and asked the governor well in advance to designate them as such by not adding them to the 2005 General Fund." (See "Vessup Beach Activist: Turnbull Shunned People's Will".)
However, King added, "The governor has chosen instead to allow these funds to be used to support our normal government excesses. Not only has the governor ignored the unanimous feelings of the Legislature; he has blatantly shunned the will of the people." She said Turnbull reported having had discussions with the developer, but neither he nor Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards has responded to the "many attempts I have made to contact them on this issue."
King also wrote: "The governor comments in his letter to Senate President David Jones that he is 'pleased to report that the developer has expressed an interest in providing continued public access to Vessup Beach,' as if we should be grateful to know that a developer is willing to toss us a few crumbs by doing exactly what he is already required to do by law, as per the Open Shorelines Act."
In a community "overrun with apathy due to our voices rarely being heard, we are finally saying enough is enough," she said. "This island simply cannot afford to lose this space to yet another condominium/time-share development."
Calling the Vessup Beach preservation initiative "a pivotally important land acquisition for the Virgin Islands," King said she, too, feels "certain our Senate will unanimously override this veto, just as it voted unanimously for the bill on April 26."
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