The National Park Service will hold the first of three public meetings Thursday to gather input on its environmental assessment for the redevelopment and management of Caneel Bay on St. John, which was released on Friday.
The NPS will hold a virtual public meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m. There will also be two in-person public meetings, at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 2 at the Gifft Hill School atrium, and the second at 2 p.m. on Feb. 4, with the location to be determined.
Members of the public can check updates for meeting notices, attend the virtual event, and submit written comments by visiting the park’s Caneel Bay website.
Information about the proposed redevelopment options can be found at the redevelopment section of the website and will be discussed at the public meetings.
The public is invited to comment on the NPS preferred plan for 30 days, a period that began on Friday and will conclude on Feb. 20. That comment period will be extended for an additional 15 days upon a timely request, according to a press release announcing the meeting dates and the NPS’s preferred plan.
“Public participation in the redevelopment of Caneel Bay has been tremendous and helpful in refining the future plan for Caneel,” said Virgin Islands National Park Superintendent Nigel Fields.
“The key elements of the environmental assessment are directly informed by the input we received and includes analysis of climate impacts, the historic district, Caneel’s floodplains and the desired visitor experience. We remain committed to keeping the public informed and welcome feedback on the NPS’ preferred action plan during this comment period,” said Fields, referring to previous public meetings to gather input about residents’ preferred uses for the property.
While the Caneel Bay retained use estate will remain in place until its expiration on Sept. 30, the NPS began planning for the Caneel Bay redevelopment in 2021, according to the release.
Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1956 donated the land that today makes up Virgin Islands National Park but held back roughly 150 acres for the Caneel Bay Resort. In 1983, Jackson Hole Preserve, a Rockefeller entity, donated the land to the park. However, it came with a Retained Use Estate agreement that gave the Preserve free use of the property and its facilities for 40 years. At the end of that four-decade period, September 2023, the RUE document dictated that the buildings and their improvements be donated to the Park Service.
However, the once-tony resort has been shuttered since it was badly damaged in the twin Category 5 hurricanes of September 2017, and its ownership is now the subject of a lawsuit between the current RUE holder, CBI Acquisitions, and the NPS.
The goals of the redevelopment plan are to ensure the preservation and protection of Caneel’s natural and cultural features, provide for economic development opportunities through commercial services, maximize operational efficiencies, and ensure compliance with law, regulation and policy, the release stated.
“The redevelopment and management will offer welcoming and equitable opportunities that promote access, visitation, employment, and use of local businesses at the Caneel Bay area to a diverse range of users,” according to the release.
In line with these objectives, two alternatives are presented for the public to comment on, the release said, including:
Alternative A — No-Action Alternative upon expiration of the RUE on Sept. 30. The NPS would assume management responsibility of the Caneel Bay area and would not issue any permit, lease, or concession contract to reestablish overnight use or provide resort-style services. Any existing Commercial Use Authorizations would be allowed to continue to operate at the Caneel Bay area until the expiration date noted on the existing permit. The NPS would minimally restore the site to allow for safe access by visitors through existing roads and trails, including safe access to beaches. The NPS would not provide visitor services, including overnight lodging at the Caneel Bay area beaches under the no-action alternative.
Alternative B — The NPS preferred alternative aims to balance enhanced public access, recreational opportunities, resource protection, and park operational efficiency while reestablishing an overnight experience on a portion of the original RUE. Alternative B also identifies two potential locations for future community spaces where residents, overnight guests, and park visitors could more directly experience the local culture of St. John and the USVI.
Written comments may also be hand-delivered or mailed to the park headquarters at: Caneel Bay Redevelopment and Management Plan, c/o Superintendent Nigel Fields, 1300 Cruz Bay Creek, St. John, VI 00830.
Mailed comments must be postmarked by the last day of the public comment period, Feb. 20.