While the lawsuit over ownership of the Caneel Bay Resort on St. John remains stalled in V.I. District Court, removal of asbestos from the once-tony property will proceed early next year, the National Park Service announced.
This first phase of environmental cleanup at Caneel Bay, which had been set to start this week but has been delayed, will focus on removing asbestos-containing debris from 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, park officials said Thursday. On-site work will be conducted pursuant to NPS’s delegated authority under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA, it said.
“After much planning and evaluation, we are pleased to begin environmental cleanup at Caneel Bay,” said Penelope Del Bene, acting superintendent of the Virgin Islands National Park where the resort operates under a Retained Use Estate agreement enacted in 1982. “We look forward to contributing to a safer, healthier environment for our local community.”
The fate of the resort that has been shuttered since hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed the property in September 2017 has been tied up in court since 2022, when EHI Acquisitions, the development company operating Caneel Bay under the RUE, sued the government over ownership rights.
A trial that was scheduled to begin Oct. 16 was stayed after Chief District Judge Robert Molloy granted U.S. Attorney Delia Smith’s request that the court await his rulings on pending motions, including one by her office to dismiss the case and motions by both sides for summary judgments.
Molloy wrote in his order issued on Sept. 28 — two days before the RUE expired — that “the Court determines that it can resolve the issues in this case upon the written submissions of the parties.”
He also ordered the government not to take any action “to manage or dispossess Plaintiff of the property at issue until further order of the Court.”
Subsequent efforts to resolve the dispute through mediation have failed after the parties reached a total impasse, attorney and mediator Henry Smock reported on Oct. 26.
Plans for asbestos removal work resulted from the park’s 2021 Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis (EE/CA) Report and 2022 EE/CA Report Addendum, which documented releases of hazardous substances at the site. That report and others can be found here.
Safety will be NPS’s top priority throughout the removal work, according to the press release announcing the project. Contractors will have the proper accreditations to safely handle, pack and transport asbestos-containing materials, it said.
NPS has also hired an independent company to monitor the removal actions and conduct perimeter air monitoring to ensure asbestos fibers are not released into the environment, the release stated. Work areas will be closed, except to qualified individuals. On-site work is expected to last three to four weeks, it said.
Over the course of the project, a total of six 20-foot-long cargo containers will be brought into the site, loaded with appropriately bagged and labeled asbestos-containing materials, and removed from the island as each container is filled, according to the release. The containers will be transported from St. John to St. Thomas using a local barge service and the asbestos disposed of in a permitted landfill on the mainland.
All project activity will be conducted in accordance with federal law and industry standards, according to the NPS. During the work period, visitors may notice increased equipment noise, though minimal traffic impacts are expected, it said.
Anticipated future actions under CERCLA include the removal of contaminated soil in the site’s landscaping, maintenance and engineering area, as well as the removal of soil and waste from the landfill near Honeymoon Beach, the release stated.
Current information about the NPS environmental cleanup efforts at Caneel Bay is available here.