Editor’s Note: This is a followup to Davis’ previous column, “Tech Village proposal welcome, but not on prime agricultural land.”
It was Sen. Kurt Vialet, during a Senate Finance Committee budget hearing who said to Mr. Peter Chapman, executive director and chief executive officer of the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park, “Why not build on land across from Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport?” In 1970, members of the Legislature in their wisdom set aside land from several estates along the South Shore of St. Croix.
This was Act No 2375 — to create the V.I. Port Authority — and portions of the land were used for Rohlsen Airport. However, there remains a large parcel of land comprising Estate Envy, Enfield Green, Manning’s Bay, Coopers Negro Bay and Betty’s Hope that represents some 500 acres. In 2002, Port Authority proposed to develop a Commerce and Business Park and hotel. At this proposed developmental site, the intention was to stimulate and diversify the Virgin Islands economy, particularly on the island of St. Croix.
There were public meetings where the community and others engaged in discussion of economic development on government land. The reports from the meetings cited the heartbreaking and unforgettable event that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, and emphasized the need to diversify the Virgin Islands economy. Part of the report stated, “Only by attracting new businesses, and by nurturing local businesses, can an island economy hope to insulate itself from external disruptive influences.”
The Port Authority has done a great job developing a Master Plan for the South Shore estates entrusted to them for the people of the Virgin Islands. Research was carried out by professionals, including local and off-island companies, on the historical, archeological and architectural properties on site and the terrestrial resources of the area. I know the South Shore estates well — like the back of my hands — from conducting hikes and exploring the wildlife and historic structures and ruins of the area.
The history of the South Shore can take you back between the second and third millennium B.C., when the first people settled St. Croix from the mainland of South America. It is fascinating history. The South Shore history also has a colonial history that started somewhere around the mid-1600s. The names of who owned what on the South Shore, enslaved Africans and how the land was used is Virgin Islands Caribbean history.
The South Shore history connects the wider Caribbean region history from Africa and North and South America to Europe. These estates are beautiful, although they were impacted over 50 years ago when the largest wetland in the Virgin Islands, the Krause Lagoon, was destroyed to create the industry complex on the South Shore.
I suggest RTPark Executive Director Peter Chapman should consider talking to Port Authority officials who represent the people of the Virgin Islands’ interests in developing some of the South Shore estates’ land for the Tech Village.
Studies have been completed as to where to build on the estates. In the Master Plan for the South Shore, Estate Betty’s Hope is mentioned as one of the possible sites for development. Specifically, it states: “Further, it features Betty’s Hope and proposes that this historical and architecturally significant location become the centerpiece of the Commerce and Business Park. By so doing, an important piece of St. Croix will be preserved for future generations and showcased for all to appreciate.”
It also noted that this will fit into the cultural setting and diversity of St. Croix as one of the marketing attractions to the world.
Estate Betty’s Hope has its own beach, which is public. In 1770, it was Samuel Thompson and his father Thomas Thompson — both planters and slave owners — who named the estate “Betty’s Hope.”
The studies of the South Shore estates also gave recommendations, which I think is well planned. There is no hotel near Rohlsen Airport. This is a good opportunity whereby the RTPark hotel can fit into the landscape of this historical site. The airport is only about a mile from the St. Croix university campus.
Chapman claimed he wanted the Tech Village development to be across from the RTPark. However, throughout the nation and the world, universities and college campuses are not always on the same site, but are spread out — sometimes for miles. The campuses that I attended for the most part were spread out. So, Chapman’s argument to me to use protected prime agricultural farmland to build the Tech Village doesn’t hold much water.
Furthermore, the university owns 30-plus acres at Estate Concordia on the west end of St. Croix. This could be a possible site. At one time, the university owned more than 300 acres east of HOVENSA, which included several estates. The land was sold to then-Hess Oil Refinery (now Limetree Bay refinery) and the university kept 52 acres of the wetland known historically as French Billy Pond. This site also includes a beach and Estate Cane Garden Bay.
However, I think the South Shore estates are the best site for the development of the Tech Village due to the proximity to the airport and UVI’s St. Croix campus. I have confidence in Port Authority officials when it comes to the best use of the people’s land that they represent to diversify the economy of the Virgin Islands.
The South Shore estates were once a dense forest, covered with cotton, sugar cane and livestock. Walter I.M. Hodge, a well-known Municipal Council politician, was the last occupant of Estate Betty’s Hope until the mid-1980s. His family grew crops and raised livestock. Thus, the South Shore estates’ historic sites are a gold mine for sustainable development. This would be a win-win for farmers and the Tech Village development.
— Olasee Davis, St. Croix, is an ecologist at the University of the Virgin Islands. He is active in Virgin Islands historical, cultural and environmental preservation.