On behalf of the 2,400 people who signed the petition to Save Vessup Beach, and for those who did not have the opportunity to do so but have shared their support with me personally or via radio call-in talk shows and letters to the paper, I state my utter disappointment and rejection of the governor's failure, once again, to listen to the people of this territory. (See "Governor Vetoes Vessup Beach, Great Pond Funding".)
The reason the governor claims to have dismissed the Vessup land portions of Bill No. 25-0186 is that the interest earned on debt service reserves has already been obligated to meet expenses in the General Fund.
When Sen. Louis Hill wrote this 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. 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.
Neither Gov. Charles W. Turnbull nor Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards has responded publicly, or to me directly, in the many attempts I have made to contact them on this issue. Obviously they have no need for the people at this time, as it is not an election year for the lieutenant governor and the governor is serving his last term. They have chosen instead to sit behind closed doors and discuss this matter with no public input.
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.
Our governor has chosen to have discussions with the developer, presumably about their mutual self-interests; yet he has not once taken the time to address the thousands of people who oppose any further development of one of the most precious coastal areas remaining on St. Thomas. With the swipe of his veto pen he is attempting to sign away a resource that can never be regained.
The governor also claims that there are still government efforts under way to acquire Lindqvist Beach, as if Vessup and Lindqvist should be pitted against each other. What he won't say is that in usual government fashion the Lindqvist Beach purchase was almost a completed deal for the government some four years ago. A well-known not-for-profit entity was fully prepared to assist financially with this purchase until a former senator who wanted a feather in his cap claimed the V.I. government did, indeed, have the money to secure the land. The not-for-profit entity was then dropped from the equation at the 11th hour.
In our government's infamous way, they eventually disclosed that the funds were not available, and hence we lost Lindqvist to another buyer. Now we are scrambling to acquire the land again, as if this acquisition attempt should act as a pacifier to the people who support the preservation of Vessup Beach.
Despite the governor's actions, however, I'm afraid the governor has underestimated the people. We are fully aware that poor gubernatorial leadership and dubious government conduct have allowed us to lose many of the islands' last remaining untouched spaces. In a community overrun with apathy due to our voices rarely being heard, we are finally saying enough is enough. This island simply cannot afford to lose this space to yet another condominium/time-share development like the recently constructed Ritz timeshares that are squashed onto nearby Bluebeard's Beach.
The Vessup Beach preservation initiative is a pivotally important land acquisition for the Virgin Islands. This is apparent by the enormous public outcry in the past six months and by the unequivocal support that I have personally received from the delegate to Congress, Donna Christensen. The delegate has voiced her opinion to the governor directly by both telephone and letter on the people's behalf. She is explicitly concerned as well about the future of our last remaining spaces and agrees that we are rapidly losing the battle of balancing preservation with development.
As a representative of the thousands of people who continually hope and pray for our government to listen to our pleas, I feel certain our Senate will unanimously override this veto, just as it voted unanimously for the bill on April 26.
Senators, there can be no lack of money or other rhetorical excuses made any longer. Once Vessup Beach is developed, there is no turning back, as it will be lost forever. You must once again act on behalf of the people and save this area as the first property in the much-needed V.I. Territorial Park System. It is the local taxpaying residents of the Virgin Islands, the children and ultimately our future generations who will reap the reward of your efforts.
Editor's note: Andrea King is president of the Red Hook Community Alliance, a grass-roots group that lobbied the government for several months to keep Vessup Beach from being sold to an off-island developer.
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