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Questions Surround Plans to Clean Up Caneel Bay; NPS Seeks Comments on Resort’s Future

Thursday’s listening session was held online. (Screenshot)

A report on the hazardous materials and toxic chemicals contaminating the property of Caneel Bay Resort is expected to be published in October, but the National Park Service will conduct another round of sampling and data collection this fall, and those results won’t be published until April 2022.

The release of that report will be followed by another period of public comment, and a final, comprehensive report is expected to be issued in May 2022, according to Park Service officials who spoke Thursday evening at an online meeting.

Until then, it’s unlikely anyone will know the full cost of the cleanup, now estimated at $6 million, or who will end up paying for it.

The resort, located within the bounds of the Virgin Islands National Park, is currently leased to CBI Acquisitions. The hotel has had several owners since it opened in 1956, but it closed down when Hurricane Irma ravaged the territory in September 2017. Whether the current and previous owners will all be held liable is still an open question.

Producing the report may seem like a long, cumbersome process, but the Environmental Engineering/Cost Analysis Process is designed to initiate action that will “fully restore the site for the benefit of this and future generations,” according to Shawn Mulligan, the chief of NPS’s Environmental Compliance and Cleanup Division. “We take this seriously,” he added.

The Park Service has the authority under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act – better known as CERCLA or the Superfund Law – to recover 100 percent of the costs, but that process has not begun.

View of Caneel Bay from the Northshore overlook. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

More than 500 CERCLA sites are now under the Park Service’s jurisdiction, Mulligan said.

The sampling and data collection for the current report was conducted in February at three main sites:

– Area 1: the wastewater treatment plant, which showed limited contamination with low risk.
– Area 2: the maintenance area, where landscaping and fueling activities were undertaken, which showed elevated levels of pesticides. Petroleum was also identified, possibly resulting from a spill documented in 2012.
– Area 3: an old landfill near Honeymoon Beach, which showed a mixture of hazardous and non-hazardous materials, including plastics and metals; the slope of the site suggests the possibility of seeps on the south side and erosion on the southeast side.

A map shows the three areas that were investigated in February. (Screenshot)

Gaps in the sampling that require further investigation include groundwater monitoring; sampling of suspected asbestos materials; additional lead-based paint sampling; determining if an underground storage tank at Cottage 7 was removed; verification of arsenic background levels; testing levels in potential fill sources; and determining the extent of petroleum in soil in the maintenance area.

Thursday’s meeting was intended to get public feedback on the 100-plus-page Draft Final Report for public review that details the extent of the contamination found so far.

However, there were more questions posed by audience members than answers provided by officials. Among the questions asked:
– Will the toxic cleanup have to be completed before the hurricane cleanup begins?
– What will be the effect of the cleanup on the two businesses – ZoZo’s Restaurant and V.I. Ecotours – that are now operating on the property?
– When was the landfill – known to contain toxic substances – last used?
– How can the Park Service be certain to get input from all constituents on the island, which is of vital importance?
– Will CBIA, which holds the lease until 2023, be held accountable for the cleanup?
– How will the public be informed as efforts continue to clean up the sites and recover the costs?

Nigel Fields, superintendent of the Virgin Islands National Park, said the meeting was designed to solicit comments rather than address questions from the public. He urged meeting participants to submit their comments about what they’d like to see happen, with or without their names, to the site for the Planning, Environment and Public Comment initiative, also known as the PEPC. To comment, click this link.

Written comments can also be mailed to the Virgin Islands National Park at 1300 Cruz Bay Creek, St. John, VI 00830.

Comments will be accepted through July 9, but members of the public may request a two-week extension by emailing viis_superintendent@nps.gov.

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