Shhh…quiet…did you hear that? No, listen, pay attention, there is that sound again. I hear it clearly now. It is the sound of another Virgin Island natural resource disappearing. It is a sickening, grating, chilling sound. Ahh, you have heard it before, just as I have. The cacophony of developers’ promises of riches to all and bountiful revenues to the Governments coffers. If this sound is allowed to play out it will be the end to Mandahl Bay as we know it.
We all heard the same clamor in 2009. Now the same discord is wafting in the breeze again. Is the sound of excavators and hammering what we want for the Mandahl Bay and Salt Pond, or the music of nature and serenity?
Mandahl Bay Holdings, Inc. and their developers Transcontinental Realty Investors, Inc. (TCI) have been granted a 99 year lease by former Governor John de Jongh to develop 24 acres and submerged lands on Parcel 33 in Estate Mandahl. This land is owned by the people of the Virgin Islands. We all should have a say in how this natural habitat for endangered species should or should not be expanded. Perhaps we do. This proposal of a marina with up to 100 slips, a 300 room hotel, 50,000 sq. ft. commercial center is just the beginning. This new lease also states that it does not "alter, limit or otherwise affect the rights for the development of Great Hans Lollik Island." It does not have to proceed. Our Senators must approve this lease. We, as constituents, can voice our opinions to our elected leaders and say enough is enough.
This project was brought before us in 2009. Our Coastal Zone Management Division denied Mandahl Bay Holdings a permit in 2009 for many reasons. Now the developers are back with a larger project than was denied before, promising to invest millions of dollars and jobs for all. The slick glossy promotional material presented at the Government House presentation when the lease was announced portrays a picture of what looks to be a new Mercedes driving away from the Hotel. Is that the shareholders of Transcontinental Investors off to the bank with some of their EDC benefits that they have already been granted? I seriously doubt that it is depicted as one of the recipients of the promised jobs, like a housekeeper, hustling off to their next job. When one reads the lease agreement now before the senate to be voted up or down you can see that all the projected revenues and jobs touted by TCI may never be fully realized. The development agreement states "Development shall proceed in such phases as MBHI determines to be economically advantageous and within its sole discretion." The millions of dollars of revenue being publicized by TCI takes into consideration all phases of development when in fact they can proceed when they decide it is advantageous to them. What happens if they feel it is not economically in their best interest? There goes the projected revenues! There goes another Natural Resource, for what? A previous editorial has already brought up the fact that there have been lawsuits against TCI for acting in bad faith.
Parcel No. 33 Estate Mandahl where the beach and Salt Pond are located and where TCI wants to recreate Miami was conveyed September 18, 1945 for "educational and related community purposes only." In 1994 Mandahl Bay and Magens Bay were designated an Area of Particular Concern, further Mandahl Bay was determined to be an Area of Preservation and Restoration. Then Senators voting in favor of this act were Mapp, Potter and Liburd. All three are still now in a position to continue their preservation of Mandahl Bay. In 2009 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that our Coastal Zone Management committee deny both the land and water parts of the permit, which was done. Because Parcel 33 sits in a Federally designated Coastal Barrier Unit Federal funds such as FEMA cannot be used to rebuild after a flood or hurricane. Flood Insurance cannot be purchased in a Costal Barrier Unit. What would happen to the property in the event of such a natural disaster?
In 2007 directly across the road from Parcel 33 a permit was granted for a campground. Camp Umoja has been keeping its environmentally educational goals going strong since then. Hundreds of students have been able to enjoy and learn about and witness the endangered species by kayaking and snorkeling the area. This is the type of activity and usage that has been recommended by multiple agencies for Mandahl Bay. If we are so concerned about revenues, make a Territorial Park on Parcel 33. Hiking trails, kayaking, scuba, snorkeling, lectures, tours, surfing all could be incorporated. Not retail centers and Town Houses.
For those of you who have not visited Mandahl Bay, do so. Go to Savemandahlbay.com and familiarize yourself with what is going on, be directed to videos. Please take time to let our Senators know that we have lost Botany Bay, Lovango Cay, Thatch Cay and that you hear the fearful cry of Hans Lollik. Another travesty has taken place recently as a permit has already been granted for a mega Marina in beautiful Coral Bay St. John. If we as concerned constituents do not speak up, we will be swallowed up by development with no one to blame but ourselves. Don’t look back and say "I should have written a letter, or called or spoken up." Now is the time. Let us listen to the sound of nature in harmony, not bulldozers. Senators, do not approve the lease to develop, Save Mandahl Bay!
Randy Shaw, St. Thomas