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Golden Has Campsites Bulldozed at Site of Planned Casino

Dec. 15, 2008 — Family campsites at Great Pond were bulldozed Friday at the behest of Paul Golden, angering the families who traditionally maintain the spots.
Golden, who plans to build a resort and casino on the property, says they were damaged by Hurricane Omar and his insurance company cited them as a safety hazard, insisting on their removal before renewing his policy.
"My wife saw them unloading a backhoe Friday afternoon," said Michael Dance, a spa owner who lives across from the property. "I wandered down to see what they were doing, and saw they had started demolishing the shacks."
Dance is a member of the St. Croix Environmental Association, a subsidiary of the V.I. Conservation Society, which has filed several lawsuits aimed at stopping Golden's project. He and several of the people who used to use and maintain the campsites met Monday evening at a house near the property.
Though the campsites have been there for many years, no building or other permits for their construction have been issued by DPNR. But Golden had no permit to bulldoze them, either.
"We know for sure there were no permits issued," said Jamal Nielsen, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, on Monday. "We are looking into it now, investigating to see if Paul Golden was responsible. … If he did use machinery to knock over the structures, he would need permission, and if he did it without permits, it would be a clear violation and we would deal with it accordingly."
Nielsen said he'd have to check with legal staff about what sort of penalty, if any, there might be.
"They were illegal structures, so there is no replacement or replacement value," he said, "but perhaps fines. I'd have to check into it."
While residents have a legal right to access the beach, the interpretation of what is meant by "access" is complicated and a matter of controversy, he said, hesitating to speculate about the rights of campers to be able to drive across Golden's land to get to their favored spots.
Golden said he was forced to demolish the structures as a matter of safety, at the insistence of his insurers.
"We respect island tradition and culture," Golden said. "Including beach access and holiday camping. I've had the land since 2001 and never demolished a structure, but after Omar our insurance company said it was a safety issue. The policy expired Nov. 28, and they said the only way to secure insurance was by removing all unsafe structures."
Asked about permits, Golden said he was not certain, but believed the law had some allowance for when safety required immediate action.
"They were unsafe," he said. "Someone could have been hurt. I have a small child myself, and a child playing or camping there could have been crushed, killed or severely injured if one of those buildings had collapsed."
The campers disagree that the sites were unsafe after Omar.
"Omar just took the roof, which blew away," Julio Encarnacion said. "But the building was solid. We put galvanized roofing back on and raked the area after the storm."
"We keep our area clean and maintained," said camper George Ventura. "Coming here with our families, getting them off the streets, out here diving for fish and camping out, it's important to our culture."
Asked about their assertion that some buildings were still solid, Golden said even if they were, he wasn't given the option of picking and choosing, but had to knock them all down to retain insurance.
The campers are sensitive to their own lack of permits.
"Yes, we all know these campsites are illegal," Encarnacion said. "But we have been using these same sites for the past 27 years. Three generations of kids grew up coming out here. … And in the past, we used to go to DPNR and to the fire department and get permits."
They resented being taken by surprise, too.
"He should have had the decency to come to us and say, 'You have two weeks or whatever to get your stuff out and take (the shacks) down,'" Encarnacion said. "If he did that, we would have taken our stuff out and torn them down."
Told of this concern, Golden said he didn't know who to notify, since the sites had no permits.
What do the campers want now?
"It's not about money," Encarnacion said. "I don't care if the fine is $1. But I want the people to know he was wrong in what he did."
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Dec. 15, 2008 -- Family campsites at Great Pond were bulldozed Friday at the behest of Paul Golden, angering the families who traditionally maintain the spots.
Golden, who plans to build a resort and casino on the property, says they were damaged by Hurricane Omar and his insurance company cited them as a safety hazard, insisting on their removal before renewing his policy.
"My wife saw them unloading a backhoe Friday afternoon," said Michael Dance, a spa owner who lives across from the property. "I wandered down to see what they were doing, and saw they had started demolishing the shacks."
Dance is a member of the St. Croix Environmental Association, a subsidiary of the V.I. Conservation Society, which has filed several lawsuits aimed at stopping Golden's project. He and several of the people who used to use and maintain the campsites met Monday evening at a house near the property.
Though the campsites have been there for many years, no building or other permits for their construction have been issued by DPNR. But Golden had no permit to bulldoze them, either.
"We know for sure there were no permits issued," said Jamal Nielsen, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, on Monday. "We are looking into it now, investigating to see if Paul Golden was responsible. ... If he did use machinery to knock over the structures, he would need permission, and if he did it without permits, it would be a clear violation and we would deal with it accordingly."
Nielsen said he'd have to check with legal staff about what sort of penalty, if any, there might be.
"They were illegal structures, so there is no replacement or replacement value," he said, "but perhaps fines. I'd have to check into it."
While residents have a legal right to access the beach, the interpretation of what is meant by "access" is complicated and a matter of controversy, he said, hesitating to speculate about the rights of campers to be able to drive across Golden's land to get to their favored spots.
Golden said he was forced to demolish the structures as a matter of safety, at the insistence of his insurers.
"We respect island tradition and culture," Golden said. "Including beach access and holiday camping. I've had the land since 2001 and never demolished a structure, but after Omar our insurance company said it was a safety issue. The policy expired Nov. 28, and they said the only way to secure insurance was by removing all unsafe structures."
Asked about permits, Golden said he was not certain, but believed the law had some allowance for when safety required immediate action.
"They were unsafe," he said. "Someone could have been hurt. I have a small child myself, and a child playing or camping there could have been crushed, killed or severely injured if one of those buildings had collapsed."
The campers disagree that the sites were unsafe after Omar.
"Omar just took the roof, which blew away," Julio Encarnacion said. "But the building was solid. We put galvanized roofing back on and raked the area after the storm."
"We keep our area clean and maintained," said camper George Ventura. "Coming here with our families, getting them off the streets, out here diving for fish and camping out, it's important to our culture."
Asked about their assertion that some buildings were still solid, Golden said even if they were, he wasn't given the option of picking and choosing, but had to knock them all down to retain insurance.
The campers are sensitive to their own lack of permits.
"Yes, we all know these campsites are illegal," Encarnacion said. "But we have been using these same sites for the past 27 years. Three generations of kids grew up coming out here. ... And in the past, we used to go to DPNR and to the fire department and get permits."
They resented being taken by surprise, too.
"He should have had the decency to come to us and say, 'You have two weeks or whatever to get your stuff out and take (the shacks) down,'" Encarnacion said. "If he did that, we would have taken our stuff out and torn them down."
Told of this concern, Golden said he didn't know who to notify, since the sites had no permits.
What do the campers want now?
"It's not about money," Encarnacion said. "I don't care if the fine is $1. But I want the people to know he was wrong in what he did."
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.