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Monday, July 22, 2024


U.S. District Court is a better venue than Territorial Court for Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen’s suit seeking to block the Beal Aerospace-V.I. government land exchange, the territory’s attorney general said Friday.
A week ago, Territorial Court Judge Alphonso Andrews granted Hansen’s request for a temporary restraining order against the land swap, which was approved by the V.I. Legislature Oct. 5. Andrews ruled that Gov. Charles Turnbull violated the public trust when he sent the land exchange agreement to the Senate for approval.
Last Wednesday the V.I. Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to move the case to District Court and stay Andrews’ temporary restraining order.
"Almost all the issues raised pertain to federal laws. The Organic Act is a Congressional act and there are issues with shoreline and submerged land…" said Attorney General Iver Stridiron. "We felt it would be appropriate to move it to District Court."
District Court Judge Raymond Finch is expected to rule on the government’s motion early next week.
Stridiron said that in his opinion, once his office made the motion to remove the case from Territorial Court, that court’s authority, particularly the restraining order, was automatically suspended. He explained that Andrews is arguing such an action applies only to states and not territories.
"We take the position it applies in the territory," Stridiron said. "There will be some issue if the judge will stay the proceedings."
Meanwhile, Hansen said the government’s effort to move the case out of Andrews’ court is an attempt to get a judge who may be more favorable to its case.
"I think it is a total lack of respect of the people of the Virgin Islands," said Hansen. "The government is acting as a front for Beal."
In his motion to stay Andrews’ restraining order, Stridiron said the issue hadn’t "ripened" to the point where court action is warranted. He said it was a "dangerous" precedent for a judge to intervene before a bill was even signed into law.
Because the Senate amended the land exchange agreement, it is unclear whether the governor will give it his approval.
"No one can truly predict how Gov. Turnbull will act when the bill gets to his desk," Stridiron said.
The governor has 10 days to sign the land exchange bill after it has been transmitted to his office. If he doesn’t sign it, the bill dies.
According to Yvonne Petersen, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, the organization is waiting to see if the governor signs the bill before making any legal moves.
"If he doesn’t sign it," said Petersen, "there won’t be a need to pursue it."
If SEA does decide to file suit, it will be on different grounds from Hansen’s effort. Petersen said issues such as land use, zoning and the trust will be the main focus.
Andrews has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 21 on whether to grant Hansen a permanent injunction. He also extended the temporary restraining order to Oct. 28.
On Oct. 5, the Legislature approved the land swap so that Texas-based Beal could acquire 14.5 acres of land, once the home of the Camp Arawak youth camp, for a portion of a parking lot. The lot will accompany Beal’s proposed $57-million world headquarters and rocket assembly plant near Great Pond Bay. In exchange for the Camp Arawak land, the government would receive acreage owned by Beal in Estates Whim and Grange Hill.
Opponents of the swap contend that the Camp Arawak land was deeded to the people of the territory to be developed into a park and therefore cannot be traded away.

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