The time has come to forge a new, clearly defined path towards redeveloping Caneel Bay. That path must include public input, particularly insight from residents of St. John. The path must also include a competitive bid to ensure the best lease option is chosen for a true, sustained partnership over the coming decades.
The integrity of this partnership should be woven with the best of our stewardship values, be strengthened by a commitment to community cooperation, and honor the cultural and natural history of the Virgin Islands.
Completing the environmental investigation
Our top priority at this time is to secure the environmental future of Caneel Bay. Evidence uncovered through the National Park Service (NPS) environmental investigations so far suggests that we have a significant but manageable challenge to address.
Last month, the NPS released the first round of environmental investigation data and hosted public sessions specifically to engage the community. We are grateful for the public’s thoughtful input, comments and support. We know that a final round of sampling is needed to complete the process and expect to complete the full contaminant investigation next summer. Our goal is to then start cleaning up documented contamination as soon as possible.
Cleaning up Caneel Bay allows us to plan the future redevelopment free of hazards and limitations. A clean site allows the NPS to negotiate a fair lease on behalf of the American public. The investigation and cleanup process has been and will remain transparent with the community’s role being key to our success.
Planning to get it right
Much has changed since 2012. Back then, the NPS began the planning process to consider benefits of transitioning the Caneel Bay Retained Use Estate (RUE) into a non-competitive lease as authorized by the U.S. Congress in 2010. The result was an Environmental Assessment (EA), following the required National Environmental Policy Act guidelines. The planning effort was not completed and now the EA is outdated.
Today, the resort is in disrepair from the impacts of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Historic structures have been affected and socio-economic conditions on St. John have changed significantly over the past decade.
We must reconcile today’s realities and promote a vision forward. Therefore, the NPS is relaunching the planning process, through a competitive lease, to ensure Caneel Bay’s redevelopment will protect ecological resources, preserve cultural treasures, benefit the local economy, provide safe visitor services and retain a low profile on the landscape.
Again, federal transparency and community input will be key to shaping the future we will share. We expect to begin the planning process this fall by initiating a new EA. The new EA will provide space for thoughtful and meaningful collaboration with the public as we consider several alternatives for the redevelopment of Caneel Bay. And by next summer, we hope to begin the competitive lease process, which will include requests for qualifications and proposals.
Rolling up our collective sleeves
It is an unusual privilege that we are here together with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. About 65 years ago, guest accommodations at Caneel Bay were re-envisioned as an eco-resort — a novel model at the time. In 1983, the resort was placed under a 40-year RUE.
We’ve learned a lot over these years. Together, we can shape a more sustainable, resilient, meaningful, accessible, and mutually beneficial Caneel Bay for this generation and the next.
With commitment and courage, we can boldly face the work ahead.
— Nigel A. Fields, St. John, is superintendent of Virgin Islands National Park.