Home News Local news GROUP TAKES LONG BAY CZM PERMIT FIGHT TO COURT

GROUP TAKES LONG BAY CZM PERMIT FIGHT TO COURT

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Sept. 23, 2003 – The Save Long Bay Coalition filed an appeal in Territorial Court on Tuesday of the Board of Land Use Appeals rejection in July of its argument that a portion of the Long Bay development planned by IN-USVI is in violation of the law.
Tuesday was the deadline for appealing the board ruling.
The Board of Land Use Appeals voted unanimously on July 29 to reject the coalition's challenge of a Coastal Zone Management development permit covering filled land adjacent to the former Yacht Haven Hotel. The land is owned by The West Indian Co.
The board, the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee, IN-USVI and WICO were served with the coalition's petition.
Elie Finegold, executive vice president of Insignia Nautica and spokesman for its local subsidiary, IN-USVI, had said in July that work on the project would not go forward so long as there was a possibility that the coalition might appeal the board's decision. (See "Yacht Haven plans still on hold despite ruling".)
He said then that he was especially concerned about the impact of delays on the planned marina development. He said that he had planned and hoped to have the 160-slip marina in partial operation by next season — late 2004. But time "is getting tighter and tighter," he said.
Finegold did not return a call to his office on Tuesday afternoon, but an assistant said he was aware the appeal had been filed. In the appeal, the coalition questions whether the corporate status of the Public Finance Authority, the sole owner of WICO, provides a shield for the government to avoid its fiduciary obligations to protect the property of Virgin Island residents on behalf of V.I. coastal lands.
The coalition also questions the role of the Public Finance Authority. "It is difficult to ascertain the boundaries between the Office of the Governor and the PFA," the appeal states. "The accountability of the PFA is troubling, and the interaction between the government, the PFA and WICO tends to reduce political accountability."
By law the governor serves as chair of the PFA board. Two of the other four members are the Finance commissioner and the Management and Budget director.
The appeal further states: "Despite the statutory requirement, written transcripts available for public review reflect that when the PFA and WICO discuss fiscal matters such as WICO's dividends to the PFA, the information is shielded from public review by the use of executive sessions … The PFA is not a 'private' entity … It is a component of the V.I. government."
Coalition members have repeatedly said they are not against the redevelopment of the dilapidated Yacht Haven hotel and marina complex; they oppose only the commercial development planned for the adjacent landfill, which they say could hurt Main Street businesses, or could end up derelict or under-used. IN-USVI is proposing to use the landfill area for retail shops and office space.
In July, when the Board of Land Use Appeals turned down the coalition's appeal of the CZM permit, board member Jose Penn said the board took the view that the filled land is no longer public trust land because it was deeded to WICO "years ago."
The coalition maintains that when the government transferred the Long Bay property to The West Indian Co., WICO was subject to public trust obligations. The coalition says the government should not be allowed to avoid its fiduciary obligations by its assignment of WICO stock to the PFA, by or WICO's retention of legal title to the landfill.
The coalition contends that "the door wasn't closed on revisiting WICO's development of Long Bay."
It cites the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals language in a 1988 case — WICO vs. the V.I. government — which states, in part: "If conditions should materially change so as to create a substantial problem that could not be foreseen in 1982 … it may be that land use regulations could validly alter the manner in which WICO may utilize its property."
In its appeal, the coalition contends that the government's purchase of all the WICO stock should qualify as a "material change." IN-USVI, it states, "must adhere to the filled land requirements under Section 911 of the CZM law … The government should not be allowed to escape or disavow its fiduciary duties to balance the cultural, historical and environmental concerns with economic and fiscal concerns."
No date has been set for a hearing on the case in Territorial Court.

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