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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 3, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesToo Much Has Been Lost Forever

Too Much Has Been Lost Forever

Dear Source:

Open Letter to the People of the Virgin Islands: The development proposal to turn environmentally fragile Mandahl Pond into "the Port of Mandahl" will be reviewed at the CZM Decision meeting this Thursday, March 26th, at 6pm. Many citizens are rightly convinced that this project should stop right now – and are astounded that it has gotten this far in the permit process, given the facts as we are learning them – especially that this land really belongs to us – the people. The Governor and the Legislature need to come forward and retrieve this land to preserve it properly. The CZM Commission needs to encourage this by denying the permit for this inappropriate development.
Although the developer's representatives want to make it seem in their presentations that staff from DPNR, Army Corps, and federal agencies agree with the proposal, that is not true. The extensive project application files available for review at DPNR show a very different story. For instance, DPNR Fish and Wildlife "recommends a request for permit be denied" based on numerous environment concerns and local and federal laws. Some of these laws came into effect in the early 1990's and later, as awareness has been raised about permanent damage to the environment caused by destructive dredging and other development activities. These threats were not fully recognized in the 1960s when the government originally encouraged economic development on the site.
This 24 acres, including the salt pond dredged in the 60's which has grown into a mature mangrove-fringed lagoon and marine nursery, actually belongs to the Virgin Islands Government –and the people of the Virgin Islands – and is only leased to the developers. Today we must really ask why these developers are trying to go forward with 1960's based plans?
The current developers hold an assigned partial lease interest, based on an agreement made by then Gov. Ralph Paiewonsky in 1964 – in which this parcel was leased for the paltry sum of $500 a year for 99 years – now half expired. Here is language from the original 1964 lease agreement:
"In consideration of the benefits to the Virgin Islands which will result from the development, construction and operation of this project, and as an inducement to …develop [Hans Lollick Island], the Government hereby leases to Hans Lollick [Corporation] … plot # 33 of Estate Mandahl."
There followed two amendments to the lease which moved back the timetable for required development activities in order to keep the lease in force. There was a timetable in the first amendment that required substantial development activity within 5 years of the agreement date April 1, 1964, and then the second amendment moved that date to 5 years from May 4th, 1967. Thus it was anticipated and agreed that the Virgin Islands would be receiving substantially enhanced property taxes and economic benefits by 1969 and then by 1972. This did not happen.
The developer dredged Mandahl Pond in the 1960's and then stopped development. The lease and amendments included provisions for lease cancellation if the project didn't happen. On the face of it, reviewing the documents provided by the developer in the application, it appears these conditions were ignored or overlooked in the intervening years, although I have not seen all of the documentary history in the last 40 years.
The lease clearly states that the reason for the lease of Mandahl Pond and surrounding land was as an inducement to develop Hans Lollick Island. Failure to develop Hans Lollick Island on the timetable described in these contracts eliminated the purported public purpose to be served by the very generous terms–to say the least.
Over 40 years have gone by, the promised development did not happen. The VI has gotten no economic benefits, therefore the lease should be declared officially void, by whatever means the government can appropriately use. Federal and local environmental laws dating from the early 1990's render the type of marina planned to be very likely illegal. We now know that developments that seemed like a good idea in the 60's cannot be sustained today.
Let's urge the Governor, the Attorney General and the Legislature to proceed quickly to take whatever actions are necessary to effectively terminate the lease based on nonperformance by the developer and the recognition that its not the 60's any more. We cannot dredge and destroy any more marine habitat. Too much has been lost forever.
Even the economic value of the surrounding land belongs to the people of the Virgin Islands – not to developers who have bought a partial lease that no longer fulfills the obligations and objectives of the original leasehold. Let's encourage the government to protect our rights to this property and to preserve the marine habitat for future generations. Take back this land and pond, through legal action or settlement – and preserve it, as appropriate today.
Sharon Coldren
St. Thomas

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to visource@gmail.com.

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Dear Source:

Open Letter to the People of the Virgin Islands: The development proposal to turn environmentally fragile Mandahl Pond into "the Port of Mandahl" will be reviewed at the CZM Decision meeting this Thursday, March 26th, at 6pm. Many citizens are rightly convinced that this project should stop right now – and are astounded that it has gotten this far in the permit process, given the facts as we are learning them – especially that this land really belongs to us – the people. The Governor and the Legislature need to come forward and retrieve this land to preserve it properly. The CZM Commission needs to encourage this by denying the permit for this inappropriate development.
Although the developer's representatives want to make it seem in their presentations that staff from DPNR, Army Corps, and federal agencies agree with the proposal, that is not true. The extensive project application files available for review at DPNR show a very different story. For instance, DPNR Fish and Wildlife "recommends a request for permit be denied" based on numerous environment concerns and local and federal laws. Some of these laws came into effect in the early 1990's and later, as awareness has been raised about permanent damage to the environment caused by destructive dredging and other development activities. These threats were not fully recognized in the 1960s when the government originally encouraged economic development on the site.
This 24 acres, including the salt pond dredged in the 60's which has grown into a mature mangrove-fringed lagoon and marine nursery, actually belongs to the Virgin Islands Government –and the people of the Virgin Islands – and is only leased to the developers. Today we must really ask why these developers are trying to go forward with 1960's based plans?
The current developers hold an assigned partial lease interest, based on an agreement made by then Gov. Ralph Paiewonsky in 1964 – in which this parcel was leased for the paltry sum of $500 a year for 99 years – now half expired. Here is language from the original 1964 lease agreement:
"In consideration of the benefits to the Virgin Islands which will result from the development, construction and operation of this project, and as an inducement to …develop [Hans Lollick Island], the Government hereby leases to Hans Lollick [Corporation] … plot # 33 of Estate Mandahl."
There followed two amendments to the lease which moved back the timetable for required development activities in order to keep the lease in force. There was a timetable in the first amendment that required substantial development activity within 5 years of the agreement date April 1, 1964, and then the second amendment moved that date to 5 years from May 4th, 1967. Thus it was anticipated and agreed that the Virgin Islands would be receiving substantially enhanced property taxes and economic benefits by 1969 and then by 1972. This did not happen.
The developer dredged Mandahl Pond in the 1960's and then stopped development. The lease and amendments included provisions for lease cancellation if the project didn't happen. On the face of it, reviewing the documents provided by the developer in the application, it appears these conditions were ignored or overlooked in the intervening years, although I have not seen all of the documentary history in the last 40 years.
The lease clearly states that the reason for the lease of Mandahl Pond and surrounding land was as an inducement to develop Hans Lollick Island. Failure to develop Hans Lollick Island on the timetable described in these contracts eliminated the purported public purpose to be served by the very generous terms--to say the least.
Over 40 years have gone by, the promised development did not happen. The VI has gotten no economic benefits, therefore the lease should be declared officially void, by whatever means the government can appropriately use. Federal and local environmental laws dating from the early 1990's render the type of marina planned to be very likely illegal. We now know that developments that seemed like a good idea in the 60's cannot be sustained today.
Let's urge the Governor, the Attorney General and the Legislature to proceed quickly to take whatever actions are necessary to effectively terminate the lease based on nonperformance by the developer and the recognition that its not the 60's any more. We cannot dredge and destroy any more marine habitat. Too much has been lost forever.
Even the economic value of the surrounding land belongs to the people of the Virgin Islands – not to developers who have bought a partial lease that no longer fulfills the obligations and objectives of the original leasehold. Let's encourage the government to protect our rights to this property and to preserve the marine habitat for future generations. Take back this land and pond, through legal action or settlement - and preserve it, as appropriate today.
Sharon Coldren
St. Thomas

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to visource@gmail.com.