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HomeNewsArchivesFAA Says No to Giving Away Bournefield Apartments

FAA Says No to Giving Away Bournefield Apartments

The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee indefinitely tabled a bill Monday to give Estate Bournefield residents title to their apartments for free, after receiving Federal Aviation Administration confirmation the land would revert to federal ownership if it is not used for the airport.

In 2010 the V.I Port Authority, which owns the land due to a grant from the federal government, announced it was going to evict all the residents, giving them four months to find new housing.

Residents protested, saying similar moderately priced housing is next to impossible to find on St. Thomas, and the VIPA governing board reconsidered and began working on a more nuanced, gradual approach.

Since then residents have asked that the apartments be given to them and their past rent payments regarded as payment of principal.

Sen. Celestino White sponsored the measure that was killed Monday, which would have transferred the property from the Port Authority to the V.I. Housing Finance Authority, and required the housing authority to sell the 43 housing units for $1 each to their occupants, if they qualify for affordable housing benefits. Remaining units would have gone first to residents of public housing, then to first-time homeowners.

Port Authority members previously testified against the bill, saying it opened up a host of problems, including costly housing repairs and renovations that the government lacked the resources to pay for. They also testified that the FAA deeded the land to VIPA with several covenants and restrictions limiting the land to airport use and that title would revert back to the FAA if the covenants were broken.

Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen disputed that there were any restrictions on the sale of the land, and several other senators asked VIPA for confirmation from the FAA.

Monday, the legislature’s clerk read into the record a June 20 letter from the FAA to the port authority signed by Bart Vernaco, who gives his title as "assistant manager." Vernaco wrote the land was transferred on condition "all the land was to be used for the benefit of aviation."

"Any release of airport land would need the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration and the release would have to show that the land is not needed for aviation and disposed of at fair market value with the proceeds put back into the airport," Vernaco wrote.

"In the event that any terms, conditions, reservations and restrictions in the quitclaim deed are not met … the title and right of possession revert to the United States upon demand," he wrote.

Senate President Ronald Russell suggested the problem could be resolved if the FAA were to consent to modifying the quit claim deed.

"But right now I don’t see how we can move forward," Russell said, before moving to table the bill indefinitely.

Voting to table the bill were Russell, Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Sammuel Sanes and Usie Richards. Voting nay were Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Patrick Sprauve. Sen. Celestino White was absent.

In other business, the committee sent three nominations on with favorable recommendations for final votes on the floor of the Legislature: Former Sen. Allison "Allie" Petrus to the V.I. Port Authority; Vernon Finch to the V.I. Lottery Commission; and J. Brion Morrisette to represent St. John V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission.

Public Service Commission nominee Lunsford Williams sent a letter asking to withdraw his nomination, and Gov. John deJongh sent a follow-up letter confirming that Williams was withdrawing his nomination.

Sen. Usie Richards asked legal counsel if the nomination could be simply withdrawn at this stage in the process and was told the Rules Committee could only send the nomination on with a favorable or an unfavorable recommendation.

For that technical reason, the committee voted to send Williams’ nomination on with an unfavorable recommendation, with the anticipation the full Legislature will vote no on the appointment.

Rules also approved several bills, which are discussed elsewhere in the Source.

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