Home Commentary Open forum We Can Build Wealth Without Ruining Mandahl Bay

We Can Build Wealth Without Ruining Mandahl Bay


Dear Source:
These days when I hear the words “economic development and jobs” in the same sentence, my brain perks up with questions. Who is this economic development going to benefit? Who will work in these jobs? Will this economic development get us out of the debt created by all the other economic developments? How much will this economic development cost our community in the short term, midway and into future generations? What will be the environmental impact/cost to our islands and the socio-economic dynamics?
This paradise called the Virgin Islands of the United States is my home. As a child of the Free Beach Movement and an Ancestral Native Virgin Islander, my education included learning a healthy respect for our beaches and shorelines. On any given weekend, holiday or summer day we learned the traditions of crabbing on the beaches, picking whelks on the rocks, diving for conch, spear fishing, snorkeling, etc. These outdoor activities were an important element in our learning about our immediate landscape. This open classroom created an environment of curiosity and exploration.
The Department of Tourism does a very good job advertising the beauty of these islands through various types of media all over the world. Many of us who live, play and work in these tiny dots in the Caribbean Sea take our magnificent surroundings for granted. Our tourism product includes the lush green hillsides contrasted with the white sandy beaches and our beautiful blue waters interwoven with a certain perception of economic growth.
In 1945, the United States Government gave Mandahl Salt Pond and Beach to
The People of the Virgin Islands and deeded it for educational, preservation and recreational purposes. The original lease between the Virgin Islands Government and the Hans Lollik Corporation was questionable because it violated the purposes of the deeded property. Since that initial time, the lease has changed hands several times with the outcome being the dredging of the Salt Pond and the construction of a jetty that has disrupted the shoreline of Mandahl Bay Beach.
In considering this lease proposal, as a community we must consider the other types of wealth generated from our unspoiled natural beauty and its amenities. Some of these features include the mangroves and wetlands surrounding Mandahl Bay, which serve as hatcheries for our local fish and sea life while offering well needed protection from hurricanes. Our natural wealth/capital is the main reason many people decide to live in this geographic location and even more people choose to visit our shores.
There are many kinds of wealth, beyond just financial, that benefit individuals and our community. If we embrace economic development opportunities that build multiple forms of wealth, our community over the long-term is more likely to see benefits. A collaboration between individuals as well as communities, the Government, local business and UVI can structure this partnership so everyone stays at the table and benefits, while maintaining or increasing local ownership, participation and control of Mandahl Salt Pond and Bay.
Since the Mandahl Salt Pond and Mandahl Bay Beach belong to the People of the Virgin Islands, our Natural capital can provide many opportunities. Those prospects include building Social Capital, Individual Capital, Intellectual Capital, Financial Capital, Built Capital and Political Capital. Adopting a “do no harm” policy as it relates to the economic development of the Virgin Islands in order to maximize our natural capital can create these multiple forms of wealth. In other words, we can create harmony by building wealth without sacrificing the value of the other types of capital.
Social Capital includes the relationships and networks that add strength to our Community. High levels of volunteerism such as civic groups and environmental organizations can be counted as part of our social capital. Individual Capital refers to the existing stock of skills, understanding, physical health and mental wellness and productivity the Virgin Islands’ population. Readily accessible, affordable excellent early childhood programs and continued learning programs beyond K through 12th grade for residents build individual capital in our future workers and entrepreneurs.
Intellectual Capital consists of the existing stock of knowledge, resourcefulness, creativity and innovation in our people, institutions, organizations and other important areas. The University of the Virgin Islands has one of the best marine, research and science curriculums, with various specialized technology centers that relates to our unique environment. The Virgin Islands has great intellectual capital, which is critical to local industry and high school graduates should be offered college scholarships at our local university. This builds the youth’s individual capital, and that capital stays in the Virgin Islands or our Caribbean region.
Built Capital is the existing stock of constructed infrastructure—for example, buildings, access to good healthcare, working sewer systems, broadband, well maintained roads to include drainage systems, etc. Do we have the infrastructure to support the proposed commercial development of Mandahl Bay?
Cultural Capital is the existing stock of traditions, customs, ways of doing, and world views of the Virgin Island’s population. Since the Virgin Islands is a multi-cultural territory our wealth of traditions, practices and artistry, shared and maintained by members of our community, provide a sense of belonging, a home, a history. This can serve as a platform for non-profit or for-profit tourism or craft enterprises.
Political Capital takes into account the existing stock of goodwill, influence and power that people, organizations and institutions in the Virgin Islands can exercise in decision-making. Well-publicized and understood government processes that invite resident participation contribute to our political capital through an inclusive and open government.
Financial Capital is the existing stock of monetary resources available in the region for investment in the Virgin Islands. Will the financial capital and economic development of the proposed project build wealth for the entire community especially for those who need it most? How many times have we been sold on an economic development effort in which jobs were created or new businesses opened but local residents were left out? Or a boom in the Virgin Islands’ economic activity that increased income and housing values for the well-to-do, but pushed low-income people further into poverty or forced to leave the Virgin Islands?
The more that people, firms or agencies outside the Virgin Islands own or have decision-making control over the capitals in my paradise, the less we can marshal those capitals to meet our needs. By increasing local ownership and control of our own wealth, we will capture more return on our investments. More benefits will flow to people, places and firms in the Virgin Islands, and can be reinvested to generate more local benefits in the future.
Can we afford to destroy our natural capital to facilitate financial capital/wealth? Will the promise of “jobs” through high contracts and low wages or risky environmental regulations continue to attract development that yields temporary benefits, but actually undermine our Islands’ capacity to build wealth over time? Being aware of the interdependence of our various sources of wealth and the potential impact that our development decisions increase our social and intellectual capital!
The Mandahl Bay Salt Pond and Beach offer value beyond price, such as its natural beauty. Its mangroves and wetlands serve as hatcheries and protection from hurricanes. These amenities provide natural wealth, cleaner water and a healthier environment, thereby helping this community build multiple forms of wealth.
Caroline A. Browne, St. Thomas


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