We find it more than curious, perhaps even bordering on suspicious, that two senior Department of Interior (DOI) officials traveled to St. John last week to meet with Gary Engle, the Connecticut financier whose control over Caneel Bay Resort will end in 34 months unless the DOI grants him a sweetheart deal extending his control far beyond his lifespan.
It is even more troubling that our federal representative, Delegate Stacey Plaskett, and our governor, Albert Bryan Jr., were apparently excluded from this meeting.
When questioned, DOI officials assured The Daily News that no “secret” or backroom deals would be made with Engle. Notwithstanding their assurances, the absence at the meeting of our elected officials responsible for protecting the future of Caneel Bay and of St. John residents, together with the secrecy surrounding the meeting, suggest otherwise.
The Daily News has reported extensively on many of the issues surrounding Engle’s management of Caneel Bay. We have also editorialized on why we believe the interests of St. Johnians — and indeed all Virgin Islanders — will best be served by the National Park Service holding community meetings with St. John residents to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) so that all major hotel companies and other interested parties, including Engle if he wishes, be allowed the opportunity to participate.
Toward that end, it’s time for Plaskett and Bryan to take a firm and public stand. Do they support an open and transparent process where all interested parties may participate? If their answer is yes, then they must insist — loudly and publicly — that the DOI cease and desist all efforts to negotiate a sweetheart deal with Engle and instead meet with our St. John community to develop an RFP so that plans will already be in place to build a new Caneel Bay Resort when Engle’s current occupancy ends on Sept. 30, 2023.