March 22, 2006 — The continuing controversy over beach access in the territory, especially St. Thomas, will be the focus of an upcoming informal public forum to be held by the Environmental Association of St. Thomas. The meeting, scheduled for Thursday, April 6, will be held at Palms Court Harborview Hotel at 6 p.m.
The meeting, said EAST President Carla Joseph, will be the first of what she expects to be a series of meetings addressing the issue of beach access.
Joseph, a native St. Thomian, said Wednesday, "That this issue has not yet been resolved more than 30 years after the 'free beaches' movement in the '70s, boggles my mind."
She added that the territory's beach access laws are confusing. "The Open Shorelines Act is clear in one respect – our shorelines are open. There is no such thing as a private beach in the V.I.," she said. "But, what is less clear is the public's right to land access via private property. There is a need for clarification. If we can only legally reach a beach by boat, is the beach truly accessible to the average resident?"
Joseph has made it clear in numerous public statements over the years that EAST supports property owners' rights as well as responsible development. What she and EAST take exception to is when property rights and development conflict with historic land access to beaches.
Problems at two privately owned St. Thomas beaches — Sunsi Beach and Lindqvist Beach — point out the need for clarity in the law. Earlier this month owners of Lindqvist Beach installed a private security officer and a truck blocking access to the beach. The guard still allows visitors access to the beach but informs them that they are trespassing (See "Developer Blocks Access to Lindqvist Beach, Again").
In July 2004, pathways to Sunsi Beach were fenced off, and the owners hired an armed guard to prevent access. Thus far, Sunsi remains closed to public access, though EAST made a protest at the beach in September 2004 (See "EAST 'Takes Back' Sunsi Beach").
Joseph said EAST was attempting to organize a settlement with the property owner to secure public access to Sunsi, but, she said, more than community support is required.
To that end, EAST is taking action. "Our attorneys have advised us that we need 100 people who have used Sunsi Beach over the years to sign an affidavit in order to move forward with the case." She said, "We will have affidavits on hand at the meeting to be signed and notarized on the spot."
Joseph noted the Legislature has been aware of the need for clarification of the law "for years." Legislation was proposed by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg in 2004 but has not gone forward (See "Senator Wants to Ensure Land Access to Beaches").
Joseph said Wednesday, "We have to wait until our attorneys make a firm decision on how we should approach the problem — through the judicial branch or the legislative."
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