June 23, 2004 – Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett has filed a motion in District Court seeking permission to use part of a historic court-case settlement to purchase the Lindqvist Beach property.
The motion, filed June 17, concerns disbursement of the $8.9 million settlement of a natural resource damage claim against companies held responsible for pollution of the Tutu wellfields on St. Thomas in the mid-1970s. The settlement was approved in October 2001.
Plaskett in his motion says the wellfields were so thoroughly polluted by leaking gas station tanks, chemicals from a dry cleaner, motor oil and other auto fluids from a repair shop, and chemicals used to print T-shirts that the settlement funds cannot accomplish their intended purpose, which is to restore the Tutu wellfields.
As a result, he said, it is appropriate to use the funds to preserve another natural resource of high environmental value — that is, Lindqvist Beach.
"Faced with the impossibility of using the recovered funds to restore the Tutu aquifer to its baseline condition," the motion states, the territory "is proposing to utilize a portion of the recovered funds for the purchase of Lindqvist Beach, so that this special ecological resource, which is under constant threat of development, can be preserved in its natural state in perpetuity."
Plaskett said on Tuesday that the settlement money finally made its way to the territory about nine months ago. Part of it has gone for expenses associated with bringing the lawsuit against Esso Standard Oil and other companies charged with polluting the Turpentine Run aquifer, he said.
"We had to pay lawyers and experts out of this," he said.
According to Plaskett, "the actual funds to be realized are more like $5 million."
This is the first time the Virgin Islands has won a cash settlement for a natural resource damage claim made under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.
"Because CERCLA requires the funds to be utilized for specific limited purposes, the trustee wants to ensure that the settlement funds are used appropriately and that the court concurs in the intended use," Plaskett's motion says.
Plaskett, by virtue of his position as DPNR commissioner, serves as trustee for natural resources in the Virgin Islands.
The motion is before Chief District Judge Raymond Finch.
Plaskett declined to comment further on the motion but did say that before filing it he consulted with Attorney General Iver Stridiron, who has been working on setting up an eminent domain acquisition of the St. Thomas East End beachfront property.
Through set-asides arranged with the help of the Public Finance Authority, the government put together roughly $2.5 million toward acquiring the land from V.I. Investments LLC, which purchased it in 2003 and is proposing to build 24 homes on the 21-acre property. But Stridiron said some weeks ago that the average of three independent property assessments had put the value of the land at $4.2 million.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, a former chair of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee, said he favors the latest legal action in defense of Lindqvist Beach.
Donastorg said Plaskett had told him of his intention to divert some of the contaminated aquifer settlement money. "I've always advocated over the years the need to establish a territorial park trust for the purpose of being able to hold or preserve, conserve — basically acquire property for protection," he said Tuesday.
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