Magens Bay Authority Board members meeting Friday voted unanimously to allow cookouts to resume at its beach sheds starting Monday – Liberty Day, Nov. 1 – after the government recently lifted some COVID-19 restrictions, though social distancing, masking and other precautions must still be followed.
The board also voted 4-5 to purchase seven portable hand-washing stations at about $600 apiece for the Magens Bay sheds, and to increase the rental fee from $150 to $175 to help cover the cost. Chairperson Katina Coulianos voted against the decision.
However, the bulk of the meeting was spent debating whether to allow the nonprofit Golden Age Ranch Horse Sanctuary access to about 100 feet of an authority easement to reach the beach west of Smith Bay Park, which the authority manages on the east end of St. Thomas in addition to Magens Bay on the north side.
The ranch has for years led riding tours on the beach to help fund its rescue operation that rehabilitates abandoned, neglected and surrendered horses, many of them racehorses whose owners cannot afford to keep them since the St. Thomas track has remained closed following hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
The Magens Bay Authority ordered a halt to the tours on Sept. 14 after conflicts with three former ranch workers who led the rides, complaints about dogs accompanying the tours, horses defecating, and a neighboring property owner who asked that the rescue stop using their land to reach the beach along a private gravel right of way, according to the discussion at Friday’s meeting.
The ranch, located across the street from the park, is proposing a new route that would have riders use about 100 feet of an authority easement, Tiffany Muse, vice president of the Golden Age Ranch board of directors, told the authority board members.
“The abrupt halt to our income on Sept. 14 due to the restricted beach access has been devastating to our mission,” said Muse, who said the ranch offers guided rides to up to six people at a time at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, though they typically occur in the morning only.
The ranch is home to 24 horses, six of which it was planning to rehome on the mainland. But without beach tours to support that mission, Golden Age Ranch “is facing the tragic decision to have to put the horses down due to lack of funds to feed and care for them,” said Muse.
It costs more than $800 a month to take care of a single horse, Golden Age Ranch board treasurer Nikki Fernandez told the Source in January.
“We are open to adopting a memorandum of understanding that will serve as a measure of accountability for Golden Age Ranch to avoid any further grievances with Magens Bay Authority. We are hopeful that we can leave the past behind us and forge a new partnership that will benefit our local community, tourists and our beautiful horses,” Muse said.
“We know that we have breached your trust and we have tried really hard to correct the infractions that were occurring and, to my knowledge, since the end of June, we’ve made every effort to make sure that we abided by the rules, and we’ve let go the people that were causing conflict,” said Muse. A new executive director is at the ranch daily, the board has been reconstructed and new rules have been in place since the end of June to ensure that guides comply with park rules, she said.
Additionally, the ranch is working to secure liability insurance, is willing to use horse diapers to prevent manure on the beach, is open to a trial restart of the tours, and would pay a fee to the authority, said Muse.
While the board did not vote on the matter Friday, at least one member appeared reluctant to approve the venture.
“Miss Muse, I understand your request, but honestly, I’m not inclined to grant the request as you’ve proposed, only because of what the Magens Bay Authority and the beach’s mission is, it doesn’t fit into what we propose for both parks. It has nothing to do with the program – I think you have a great program – it just doesn’t fit Smith Bay Park or Magens Bay beach,” Barbara Petersen said.
In other business, the board voted to approve a fiscal sponsorship agreement with the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands to create the Elliott “Mac” Davis Fitness Trail, with member Dayle Barry abstaining.
Davis, a passionate advocate for Magens Bay Beach and longtime authority board member, died on Sept. 11.
During an executive session at the end of the meeting, the board discussed the procedure for filling the vacancy left by Davis, Coulianos said.
“Individuals who would like to serve should send a letter expressing their interest and detailing what they feel they can contribute in line with the mission statement of the authority. A resume should be included and both sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject line should say ‘your name/resume for board vacancy.’ The deadline is 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021,” Coulianos said in an email.
Members attending Friday’s meeting were Coulianos, Petersen, Dayle Barry, treasurer Cecile deJongh, and St. Thomas Water-Island Administrator Avery Lewis, who is the governor’s representative on the board. Also attending were Magens Bay Authority general manager Hubert Brumant and business manager MemorieAnne Brown-Callender. Vice-chairman Robert Moron had an excused absence.