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Thursday, June 30, 2022


Although former Gov. Roy Schneider’s administration officially signed off on the Beal Aerospace/V.I. government land exchange, his successor hasn’t.
And that has Sen. Adelbert Bryan questioning whether the Turnbull administration was within V.I. law when it sent the proposal to the Legislature for ratification.
In a letter to Senate President Vargrave Richards on Thursday, Bryan asked that the Legislature’s chief legal counsel further review the exchange agreement that was approved by the Schneider administration, but not legally executed.
Bryan pointed out that in the governor’s June 28 transmittal letter of the exchange agreement to the Senate, Turnbull said, "The documents which were executed by the previous administration on Dec. 30, 1998, as drafted, have raised considerable legal issues."
That statement alone, Bryan said, is enough to warrant further review by legal counsel. He said the Turnbull administration had six months to "correct the assertions made" in the transmittal letter and that the exchange agreement should have been approved by Turnbull before being sent to the Senate.
"Simply stated," said Bryan, "does the law of the Virgin Islands permit the sitting governor to submit to the Legislature for their review, approval or disapproval, a contract that was not signed by the present governor or approved by the present attorney general?"
At issue is Texas-based Beal’s proposal to exchange 14.5 acres at a site owned by the government, and formerly occupied by Camp Arawak, for approximately 15 acres of land Beal owns in Estates Whim and Grange Hill. Beal needs the Camp Arawak land for a portion of a parking lot that would accompany its proposed $57-million world headquarters and rocket assembly plant near Great Pond Bay on St. Croix’s rural southeast shore.
The land, however, was deeded to the government by Frank Wiesner in 1974. The deed states that the acreage was to be developed as park land for the people of the Virgin Islands. The "legal issues" mentioned by the governor concern the deed and whether that can be broken.
At a July 23 Committee of the Whole meeting on the exchange agreement, V.I. Attorney General Iver Stridiron said the land swap was signed off on Dec. 20, 1998 by Schneider, former AG Julio Brady, Samuel Baptiste, former commissioner of Property and Procurement, and Beal’s legal counsel Brad Oates.
"The principle reason for sending it down," Stridiron said at the meeting, "was that we’d be damned if we did and damned if we didn’t."
One way for the Legislature to get around the language of the Wiesner deed is for the Legislature to waive the law in order to override the public trust doctrine, Stridiron said. For a court to accept such a move, the Legislature would have to say its decision was made in light of the territory’s economic condition.
Bryan, meanwhile, said Turnbull set a precedent on a similar issue late in January. The senator said the governor reviewed, approved and signed a $32 million contract with Banco Popular and IBM for Y2K compliance.
"Coincidentally," Bryan said, "this agreement was previously negotiated by the 'past administration' and Gov. Turnbull’s administration saw it necessary to bear the semblance of responsibility when submitting the proposal to the Legislature."
Bryan said he wants Turnbull to practice the same "vigor and responsibility in the execution of the Beal agreement."

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