Dec. 9, 2003 — Investors who recently purchased a popular East End beach and adjacent property held a press conference Tuesday to call for the V.I. Planning and Natural Resources Department to revoke a Notice of Violation issued against them last week. The notice, issued Dec. 5, orders the principals of V.I. Investments LLC to remove a fence the owners erected at Lindqvist Beach in late November.
Attorneys for the corporation say the investors have done nothing wrong, DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett is misguided and the $10,000 a day fine now being assessed against them amounts to a "political mugging" by the V.I. government.
"When you look at the NOVA and you consider the regulations and the statutes pursuant to which this NOVA has been issued, I am forced to come to one of two conclusions: Either the commissioner has been badly misadvised and misled by his department and the persons who support him, or the government is engaged in a political mugging of my clients, and I don't believe either is appropriate in this context," said attorney George Dudley, a partner in the law firm Dudley, Topper and Feuerzeig.
Dudley said he would file a motion Tuesday with Plaskett to rescind the violations notice and if that motion failed, he and his clients would request a hearing before the Coastal Zone Management Commission. As of Tuesday afternoon, documents were still being prepared for submission.
On Monday, Plaskett said the fines assessed against V.I. Investments had amounted to $260,000, dating back to the initial correspondence with Dudley over the matter. Dudley said the daily fines should have begun the day the notice of violation was issued and as of Tuesday should have amounted to no more than $40,000. "Where this government comes by $260,000 baffles me," Dudley said.
V.I. Investments managers Don Rifenberg and Edwin Padgett were on hand at the law firm for the Tuesday morning press conference, led by Dudley and attended by his law partner, former Territorial Court Judge Henry Feuerzeig. Also speaking at the conference was architect William Karr, expressing outrage over what he characterized as selective enforcement by the V.I. government in the matter of Lindqvist Beach.
Karr presented photos of the remnants of a fence that preexisted the recently erected fence on the Lindqvist property — and which he said is documented in records at Planning and Natural Resources.
That fence dates back to 1989 and serves, he said, as proof that the newly erected fence has been put up as a replacement.
Dudley later reinforced Karr's remarks in an e-mail. He wrote, "The existing fence around the property at Lindqvist Beach is 1337 linear feet. Of that number only 47 feet (17 feet for the gates and 30 feet of new fence) was installed by my client to replace gates that had been torn down by acts of vandalism (which remain lying on the ground next to the new gates) and a stretch of fencing that had been knocked down by people driving their vehicles over the fence."
At issue is the public's ability to access Lindqvist Beach, a popular spot for family gatherings, picnics and parties for close to 30 years. In a letter written Nov. 24, acting Coastal Zone Management Director Bill Rohring informed Dudley the gate was "obstructing the traditional public access roads to the beach."
Principals for V.I. Investments, through their attorney, had earlier told CZM and its parent agency, DPNR, they would grant an easement to the beach but Dudley said Tuesday his client did not have to provide an easement. An easement is only required in the case of a major CZM permit, he said, whereas the Lindqvist property was subject to a minor permit where no such provision was required.
Karr also presented an illustration of a proposed 24-home development at Lindqvist, showing a parking lot and beach access as part of the design.
There would be no need for the V.I. government to seize the property by eminent domain, as has been discussed by Attorney General Iver Stridiron, Karr said, because the public will be able to access the beach once the development is complete.
Padgett also pointed to a meeting held in March 2002 with then-Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd where the possibility of selling the property to the V.I. government was discussed. Liburd sponsored an appropriations bill for $3.5 million to buy the beach when it was put up for sale. The measure was approved by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull but no further action was taken by the governor or his administrators. V.I. Investments then bought the property for $3.1 million.
When asked Tuesday why the government turned down the offer, Padgett said, "It was a monetary problem. They did not have the money to bid," adding, "We offered to hold the property for 90 days and not really spend any of our money in development to see if the V.I. government could pull that money together."
But now, he says the corporation has spent a significant sum towards developing their Smith Bay acquisition and their attorney said the value of the land has increased, so much so that Stridiron's recent estimate of $2.6 million as a fair market value to take the property by eminent domain had become outdated.
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