NPS Releases Redevelopment Vision For Caneel Bay At Virgin … – National Parks Traveler

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The National Park Service hopes to return lodging to Caneel Bay at Virgin Islands National Park to replace that destroyed in 2017 by two hurricanes/NPS
Overnight lodging in the form of a “21st century eco-resort” at Caneel Bay in Virgin Islands National Park would return under the National Park Service’s proposal for redeveloping 150 acres fronting the bay.
The proposal, laid out in a draft environmental assessment released Friday by the park, also identifies an area on the acreage for interpreting pre-settlement cultures, and day use.
“The key elements of the environmental assessment are directly informed by the input we received and includes analysis of climate impacts, the historic district, Caneel’s floodplains and the desired visitor experience,” said Virgin Islands Superintendent Nigel Fields in a press release. “We remain committed to keeping the public informed and welcome feedback on the NPS’s preferred action plan during this comment period.” 
If successful — and a lawsuit could hold up the Park Service’s plans — the plan would makeover how the 150 acres have been managed since 1956, when Laurance S. Rockefeller donated land on the island of St. John for the national park. At the time he donated the land, Rockefeller held back the Caneel Bay acres for a private resort. 
Public comment on the plan is being taken through February 21.
Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1956 donated the land on the island of St. John that today makes up Virgin Islands National Park. At the time, he retained roughly 150 acres for the Caneel Bay Resort. In 1983, the Jackson Hole Preserve, which Rockefeller had established, donated the land to the park; but it came with a Retained Use Estate agreement that gave the Preserve free use of the property and its facilities for 40 years. At the end of that four-decade period — September 2023 — the RUE document dictated that the buildings and their improvements be donated to the Park Service.
While the Jackson Hole Preserve initially held the RUE, it was passed down to other companies, and finally in 2004 to Caneel Bay Acquisitions, Inc., which is owned by a private equity firm.
The National Park Service decided in 2010 that a competitive bidding process should be conducted to find a lodging concessionaire for Caneel Bay once the RUE expired; while CBI was given an opportunity to negotiate a lease for the resort, negotiations between the Park Service and CBI never gained traction.
Then, in September 2017, the resort was pummeled by back-to-back hurricanes, storms that essentially put the resort out of business. Gary Engle, CBI’s principal, then worked with U.S. Rep. Stacy Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, to craft legislation that would extend the RUE for 60 years, a time period Engle maintained was needed to attract investors for the estimated $100 million it would cost to restore the resort’s glamour. But that legislation failed to gain traction.
In 2019 Engle offered to essentially terminate the RUE and sell the resort to the federal government for $70 million, an offer that was rejected. Then, last June, his company sued the government over ownership of the 150 acres, claiming that the Caneel Bay Resort legally belongs to the company that has operated a resort since 2004.
A month later the National Park Service announced that it would seek competitive bids for the resort’s lease. But first the Park Service has to address environmental contamination on the property. Testing has detected a variety of wastes, some hazardous to humans, on nearly eight acres of the grounds of the once-tony resort. That testing found varying levels of arsenic, elevated levels of certain pesticides, and a “mixture of benign organic materials, plastics, metals, and CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) hazardous substances, including the pesticide DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls.” 
Hurricane-battered structures determined to be beyond salvage also must be razed and removed.
EIN: 26-2378789
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