The 170-acre Parcel 7 Remainder Estate Carolina is owned by the Egbert Marsh Trust.
CRUZ BAY – Despite a lack of money in the St. John Capital Improvement Fund, Governor John deJongh should create a purchase agreement to realize potential federal funds to help pay for the 170-acre Estate Carolina land acquisition, Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren told senators at a Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation hearing on Thursday night, May 29, at the St. John Legislature building in Cruz Bay.
The V.I. Senate passed an amended bill in 2011 allocating $1 million — the first of four allocations over four years — to purchase the first 20 acres of the total 170-acre Parcel 7 Remainder Estate Carolina from the Egbert Marsh Trust.
That portion of the land, on the lower, flat area of the estate, was earmarked for a V.I. Waste Management Authority-run convenience center and trash facility. Other portions of the land — which stretches from the Estate Carolina valley up to Centerline Road — include a mostly dry ghut with the potential for hiking and biking trails and historic ruins where interpretative tours are possible, explained Senator at Large Craig Barshinger.
“The land was in jeopardy,” said Barshinger. “A lot of land taxes are owned and there are historic ruins on the property. The family wants to see these ruins used to bring the history of St. John to life.”
“We could create a Territorial Park to work in concert with the V.I. National Park and maybe even work better,” Barshinger said. “They also carved out a little piece of land for Waste Management to put a recycling and convenience center.”
The amended bill — passed after a matching Forest Legacy program grant fell through — allocated $1 million each year over four years from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund for the 170-acre land purchase.
The St. John Capital Improvement Fund, however, is about $4 million in the red, according to St. John Legislature Post Auditor Jose George.
The roughly $5 million Fund has about $9 million in encumbrances, yet those financial details were not available at Thursday night’s Committee on Culture hearing.
“As of December 31, 2013 the St. John Capital Improvement Fund was negative $3.9, almost $4 million,” said George.
The Post Auditor requested details of the $9 million of encumbrances on the Fund in January, yet has received no word from Government House, George said under questioning from Committee on Culture member Senator Tregenza Roach.
Senator Barshinger, who proposed the legislation to purchase the land, vowed to subpoena the information.
“This should have gone forward but we are told again that there is no money in the Capital Improvement Fund by the executive branch,” said Barshinger. “The next step is to subpoena the information and have it delivered within two weeks.”
Despite the lack of money in the St. John Capital Improvement Fund, the governor should move forward with a purchase agreement for the much needed government land, explained CBCC President Coldren, who testified at last week’s meeting.
“I have been in meetings with Senator Barshinger and the Egbert Marsh Trust representative when discussions included planning for government purchase of future portions of this property for conservation and recreation purposes,” Coldren said. “If the government contracts for these future purposes, CBCC is willing and has the proven ability to assist in seeking federal and other grant funding to cover some or all of the actual costs of this purchase and future phases.”
“It is important to understand that the guidelines for virtually all land acquisition and construction grant funding require that a written purchase agreement with the property owner be included with the grant application, fully spelling out the conditions of sale, any conservation easement, tax treatment provisions, below appraised value provisions, timing, etc.,” said the CBCC President.
There is little government-owned land in the Coral Bay area and a need for additional infrastructure, Coldren told senators.
“The government owns very little land in Coral Bay to support the needs, now and in the future, of this 3,000 acre community, already subdivided into more than 1,900 land parcels, with more than 900 homes,” Coldren said. “At the high cost of purchasing small tracks of land, and the high appraised values, it is prudent for the government to purchase land in bulk for multiple public purposes, rather than making fragmented higher cost purchases, agency by agency.”
“The VI Waste Management Authority has an immediate and urgent need to obtain land in Coral Bay in order to move the main waste bin site that is in the shoreline mangroves and is an environmental hazard and traffic safety hazard,” she said. “No publicly owned parcels are appropriate or available. The proposed site should also accommodate the new convenience center concept and re-use and recycling.”
The Estate Carolina area also includes historic ruins which could boost tourism in the Coral Bay area, according to the CBCC President.
“The historic preservation area of the Carolina Plantation is an important cultural and historic area which has several ruins of significance which, if managed properly, could boost tourism interest and provide small business opportunities,” said Coldren. “The main ghut is just adjacent to this area and since it is primarily dry, provides a possible interesting nature path trail.”
Purchasing Parcel 7 Remainder Estate Carolina would be a win, win win situation, Coldren testified at last week’s hearing.
“The Egbert Marsh Trust and Sheldon Marsh have shown a strong and generous interest in cultural and environmental conservation and should be applauded for this and encouraged to go forward by the VI government entering into detailed negotiations for a purchase agreement with the aim of a win-win-win situation for the territory’s government, the people of Coral Bay and future users and tourists, and for the current property owner,” she said.
Even just creating a purchase agreement for the land would be a legacy for the deJongh Administration, Coldren explained.
“Rather than thinking of this as an ‘unfunded initiative,’ the negotiation of a master purchase agreement would likely turn out to be a long-lasting achievement of the deJongh Administration, fulfilling many needs widely held by the public and businesses,” she said.
Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation Chairperson Senator Myron Jackson and member Senator Tregenza Roach were present at last week’s hearing. Senator at Large Barshinger, while not a member, was also present. Committee members Senators Shwan-Michael Malone, Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilley, Janette Millin Young, Terrence “Positive” Nelson and Kenneth Gittens were not present.
Invited testifiers Governor John deJongh, Lt. Governor Gregory Francis, Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottleib, Department of Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, Department of Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Maduro and Department of Finance Commissioner Angel Dawson were also not present at the committee hearing.