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Friday, July 19, 2024


After a long, hot summer of debate, the Legislature on Tuesday passed the Beal Aerospace-V.I. government land swap at Great Pond Bay.
The 10-5 vote awarded Beal 14.5 acres of government land on the south shore of St. Croix near Great Pond Bay in exchange for property at Estate Grange Hill and Whim Estates.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull commended the 10 senators who voted "yes," saying, "To support the relocation of this industry to the territory is in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands, and particularly the residents of St. Croix."
Environmentalists vowed to fight the deal in court.
Beal needed the land at Great Pond, site of the dormant Camp Arawak youth camp, for a section of its corporate headquarters and rocket-assembly plant. The company already holds an option for approximately 280 acres adjacent to the Camp Arawak land and the bay.
Environmental concerns have been voiced about the swap since it was first introduced in the Legislature last December by then Gov. Roy Schneider during his "lame duck" period after losing the election.
The property was deeded to the Virgin Island government by Frank Wiesner in 1974 for use as a public beach, park or other recreational facilities. The bill would require Camp Arawak, the sole occupant of Great Pond, to relocate to a new public site at either Grange Hill or Whim so as not to lose federal funds.
The buildings at the Camp Arawak site are in serious disrepair, which has been a large point of contention by proponents of the project.
Contrary to published statements, the legislative session was called to act on the bill only; no testifiers were called. Senate President Vargrave Richards explained that in a meeting of the Committee of the Whole in Frederiksted on July 23, the bill was discussed thoroughly with testifiers representing both sides.
Richards cautioned the crowded gallery, which was composed largely of St. Croix Beal supporters in red and white T-shirts reading "The Deal is Beal," that no cheering or jeering was to be allowed.
Sen. Adelbert Bryan then made the first of a series of motions, points of order and points of inquiry that continued throughout the session.
The overwhelming sentiment expressed by almost all of the senators was that they were of two minds: that their hearts were torn between their love of the land and the environment — "the birds and the bees and the lizards," as Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said — and the desperate need to improve St. Croix's decaying economy.
Richards cited his 20-year teaching career and asked, "What can I say when my ex-students come to me and tell me they don't have jobs? What are they to do for their children? What kind of message are we sending them?"
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole said that the "no" opinions came early; the "yeses" came late. He said Beal could become a magnet for the Virgin islands, particularly for St. Croix, in attracting business.
Bryan was opposed from the start, interrupting the proceedings at regular intervals. Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen echoed his sentiments, noting that she would wait until after the "yes" votes, so she would have something to rebut.
Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus presented a slide show in favor of the proposal, after which Hansen requested time to do the same. However, Richards told her she should have thought of that before.
Sen. David Jones sat with a black and orange rocket on his desk.
Before adjourning for lunch, and after all the senators had been heard from, Cole introduced an amendment providing that should Caribbean Space Technologies LLC, a subsidiary of Beal, not start operation of the proposed rocket-manufacturing assembly within two years from the date of enactment, the property would revert to the Virgin Island government.
After the lunch break a second amendment was offered by Sens. Jones, Anne Golden, Petrus, Roosevelt David, Baptiste and George Goodwin incorporating Cole's amendment and stipulating that Beal Aerospace Technologies Inc. be struck out of the original document and replaced by Caribbean Space Technologies LLC.
The amendment also provided for "unhindered access to the shoreline of the Great Pond Bay," and a section noting in part that all chemicals used meet the standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies. The amendment passed.
Baptiste offered an amendment stating that the company provide not less than $5 million over a three-year period for maintenance and repair of public schools and also finance a telecommunications program. Bryan amended the amendment to say that the amount should be $25 million. Both amendments were defeated.
Voting for the land exchange were Sens. Cole, David, Golden, Judy Gomez, Goodwin, Baptiste, Jones, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Petrus and Richards.
"No" votes came from Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Bryan, Hansen, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Gregory Bennerson.

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