While Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and her lawyer didn’t want their lawsuit against Beal Aerospace heard in federal court, the St. Croix Environmental Association and its lawyer welcome the challenge.
"We think we’ll win no matter where we are," said SEA’s attorney Andrew Simpson, referring to the V.I. attorney general’s effort to have Hansen’s case moved from Territorial to District Court.
SEA and the Virgin Islands Conservation Society filed their lawsuit in Territorial Court Tuesday to stop the government from exchanging 14.5 acres of public land on Great Pond Bay with the Texas-based rocket company. For the 14.5 acres at Camp Arawak, the government will receive approximately the same amount of land owned by Beal in Estate Whim and Grange Hill.
Soon after the V.I. Senate approved the land exchange on Oct. 5, Hansen and a group of 19 residents filed a lawsuit in Territorial Court to stop the swap. Judge Alphonso Andrews granted Hansen and her lawyer, Ned Jacobs, a temporary restraining order against the exchange. Andrews ruled that the exchange violated the charitable trust that deeded the land to the people of the territory. The case is currently being argued to decide whether or not a permanent injunction will be issued.
Before that, however, V.I. Attorney General Iver Stridiron attempted to have Hansen’s case moved from Territorial Court to District Court in hope of getting a more sympathetic judge. But District Court Judge Raymond Finch said he didn’t have jurisdiction in the matter, which left the case to Andrews.
The main reasons for the lack of federal jurisdiction is because Jacobs dropped two of his original complaints contending that the land exchange violated the Constitution. Those two complaints, and others, are now in SEA’s suit, Simpson said.
The SEA complaint includes allegations of violations of the V.I.’s Revised Organic Act, which is a federal statute that mandates certain portions of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights apply to the Virgin Islands; specifically, the contract clause, a part of the Constitution, and the due process and equal protection clauses found in the Bill of Rights.
Since federal issues are involved, Beal or the government can attempt to "remove" the case to the U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands, where it would be assigned to either Finch or Judge Thomas Moore.
"It does not matter to us what judge hears this case. SEA has the law on its side and is confident that every judge in this territory will agree that a trustee cannot breach its trust," Simpson said, referring to the contract clause of the Constitution and Organic Act, which provides that "no law impairing the obligation of contracts shall be enacted."
Furthermore, both Jacobs and Simpson argue that because a zoning variance within the land exchange agreement is more than that, it should have been subject to public hearings, as mandated by law. Since hearings didn’t take place, the lawyers contend the land swap constitutes a special or private law in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and a section of the Revised Organic Act.
Meanwhile, Simpson said SEA wants to have the federal issues decided because they could assist in protecting other aspects of the Virgin Islands environment from the "whim of the governor or a majority of the local senators."
"For example, suppose the next move was to allow Beal to locate at Cramer's Park or Magen's Bay," said Simpson. "If the SEA suit is successful, these types of things could be prevented anywhere in the territory."
He said that while SEA fully supports Hansen's suit, it is site-specific. SEA, Simpson said, is interested in "advancing the law further than just Great Pond and establishing law that will provide protection for the entire territory."


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here