Saying that the Beal Aerospace project "is in the best long-term interests of the Virgin Islands," Gov. Charles Turnbull has announced his support for the land swap Beal insisted on as a condition of setting up operations in the territory.
"Without this land exchange, this project cannot go forward," Turnbull said Friday upon return from meetings with Beal executives at the company headquarters in Dallas, Texas. He called upon the 23rd Legislature to ratify the swap.
The exchange of 14.8 acres of land Beal owns in Estates Whim and Grange Hill for 14.5 acres of waterfront government property at Great Pond was agreed to by the Schneider administation, Turnbull noted. More recent efforts to get Beal to accept instead an exchange of government property at Betty's Hope as environmentalists and Great Pond residents wanted were not acceptable to the company.
"Betty's Hope is not an option they are willing to consider," the governor said.
Turnbull said he concluded that "we must strike a balance between development and the environment," adding that environmental concerns such as shoreline reef protection "can be addressed by the proper enforcement of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Coastal Zone [Management] Commission."
"The exchange will enable Beal to construct its aerospace facilities at which it proposes to assemble high-tech rocket parts and rockets," he said. "The company needs a site with protected water access for its outgoing vehicles and conducive for a corporate headquarters."
Turnbull said he and fiscal policy adviser Rudolph E. Krigger met with company president Andrew Beal, company attorneys and Beal's public relations director. The governor said he and Krigger received "comprehensive and frank answers" to their "hard questions" and concluded that the project represents "increased job opportunities for our people."
"I have considered the merits of the concerns that have been expressed by those who have opposed the land-swap agreement," Turnbull said. "However, I believe the Beal project is in the best long-term interest of the Virgin Islands in general and St. Croix in particular. I therefore urge legislative approval of the land-swap agreement I have submitted for ratification."
Last month, members of the family of the late Frank Weisner, who donated the Great Pond property to "the people of the Virgin Islands" in 1974 for recreational use, said the government had failed to maintain it for its intended purpose and they were in favor of trading it to Beal.
The immediate reaction of the St. Croix Environmental Association was disfavorable. Yvonne Petersen, the group's new executive director, termed the governor's decision "a travesty" that was "not well thought out."
According to the governor, the administration is, meanwhile, "working on other economic initiatives for St. Croix" and will make them public "in the upcoming weeks and months."