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HomeNewsLocal newsCrucians Sue Over Blocked Beach Access

Crucians Sue Over Blocked Beach Access

Stones block access to a Prosperity beach, prompting a lawsuit by generational beachgoers. (Photo by Arthur Petersen)

When the owners of property just north of Frederiksted moved large boulders into the common beach-access walkway, they violated not only the law but a tradition enjoyed by generations of Virgin Islanders, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The 18 St. Croix residents who sued in Virgin Islands Superior Court said the property owners made accessing the Estate Prosperity Beach much more difficult June 1 by placing 30 or so boulders on the traditional path and attempting to create a new path, which went up and down an uneven gut. The large stones also blocked the road shoulder where cars traditionally parked, according to the suit.

One of the plaintiffs, Arthur Petersen, said some of the stones were protruding out into the road, far beyond the traditional eight-foot or 10-foot easement from a roadway. He said he was shocked by the boulders restricting access to the beach just past Mahogany Road on Emancipation Drive, which he’d visited for more than 60 years and that his family had accessed without trouble for a century or more.

“From the time I was a kid, my aunt used to carry me there,” he said Friday afternoon. “We all want to know what is all this about because it don’t make no sense.”

Petersen wondered why such a change could be made without a Coastal Zone Management permit posted.

The lawsuit claims the property owners, Paul and Catherine Lippman, residents of Maine and St. Croix, and their son, Matthew Lippman, a St. Croix resident since at least 2006, posted on social media that the changes were to protect turtle nests and that cars were driving on the beach.

“Cars only park on shoulder off the roadway, which is a sandy and rocky hard pack. No turtles nest on this hard pack. No turtle would be able to dig in this hard pack. Cars do not drive onto the soft beach sand. All cars, even four-wheel drive vehicles, would get stuck in soft dry sand. None of the Plaintiffs have ever seen a car drive down on the soft beach sand. Defendants statement were false and were made to create the false guise of altruistic eco-conservation, to conceal their true motive of discouraging public use of the beach, so that the beach would be more ‘private,’” the lawsuit filed by attorney Russell Pate alleges.

Stones placed along the road create an unsafe parking situation at Estate Prosperity Beach, according to a complaint filed with Superior Court. (Photo by Arthur Petersen)

The area in question is within 50 feet of the low-tide mark, meaning it should be considered open to public use, the suit claims. By blocking the flattest, easiest route to the sea, the boulders disproportionately harm very young and very old beachgoers.

“First, emergency vehicles could be blocked from traversing. Second, cars parked in the roadway obscures and narrows the roadway, and people are more likely to be hit by passing cars, particularly children. We want children to be engaging in outdoor activities at the beach with family instead of inside playing video games on their phone on social media. But, children should be placed in more danger due to landowners forcing more dangers parking to access public beaches. Third, psychologically, the use of boulders to deny “space” is designed to send a message to Virgin Islanders not to try to use this beach; and that Virgin Islanders are not welcome. All of the above is against the spirit and purpose of the Virgin Islands Open Shorelines Act,” according to court documents.

Open beach access was assured to all after the 1878 Fireburn uprising and became statutory and common law under the Danish government of the time. When the United States bought the territory and took possession in 1917, that law continued under the Treaty Sale Agreement. Attempts to privatize beaches and restrict access in the 1950s and 1960s led to the Open Shorelines Act of 1971, signed into law by the first locally elected Virgin Islands governor, Melvin Evans, the suit says.

Those seeking to block Virgin Islanders from beaches should understand the historical trauma associated with such actions, the suit says.

“Blocking, interfering or restricting access to a beach, due to the long historical past of enslavement, discrimination and disenfranchisement, opens up deep psychological wounds in Virgin Islanders. This historical background is included for defendants to understand and comprehend the plaintiffs’ mental anguish and emotional distress,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit asks the property owners move the boulders to at least eight feet from the roadway and revert beach access to the traditional path, not down a gut and into the bush. The suit also seeks damages for “mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life” as well as punitive damages.

The Lippmans, former owners of the Spouter Inn in Lincolnville, Maine, were not able to be reached for comment. In 1999 Catherine Lippman and neighbors unsuccessfully tried to block a restaurant expansion in their town, where as of April 2023 they sat on the Lincolnville Sewer District Board of Trustees.

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