Island Green Demands Environmental Cleanup at Caneel Bay Resort

Caneel’s Beach Terrace Restaurant was damaged by storm surge in 2017. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

The board of Island Green Living Association, a non-profit on St. John focused on environmental issues, has voted unanimously in support of demanding a thorough cleanup of environmental contamination at the shuttered resort at Caneel Bay and plans to sue to try to make it happen. One member plans to sue over the matter.

CBIA’s Gary Engle and Patrick Kidd survey the damage to Caneel guestrooms in April 2018. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

The resort has been moldering in ruins since the 2017 hurricanes, while the National Park Service, the resort operator CBI Acquisitions and Congress debate a new lease on what is federal park land on St. John. CBI’s lease expires in 2023 and the company wants a 40-year lease renewal.

The Park Service and CBI recently announced a preliminary agreement over the property, which was negotiated out of the public eye. Some St. John residents are particularly concerned about environmental contamination from the resort and want a full assessment.

“According to the National Park’s own commissioned engineering reports, these pollutants are in the soil and water on the site,” Harith Wickrema, president of Island Green said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire St. John community, the responsible parties must be held accountable, and we have prepared a full statement on the matter,” he said.

Harith Wickrema (File photo)
Harith Wickrema (File photo)

According to Island Green Living, three separate reports were prepared by engineers in 2012, 2014 and again in 2017 which they say all found the existence of hazardous chemicals and waste. But, the organization argues, the community was not made aware and Caneel Bay operators were not compelled to mitigate contamination or held accountable for cleanup.

“It is Island Green’s position that at this time, a thorough assessment by engineers is necessary to ensure the full extent of the contamination is uncovered and a comprehensive cleanup must be undertaken. The property on which the Caneel Bay Resort was operating is public and belongs to all of us, and the authority given to the present operator expires in September of 2023. This situation must be rectified with a guarantee that protections will be established to ensure it does not happen again,” the statement from the organization says.

Member David DiGiacomo has served a notice of an intent to sue CBIA and the Interior

David DiGiacomo is taking the lead in the fight to hold Caneel Bay Resort accountable for contamination. (Photo submitted by DiGiacomo)

Department as a private citizen to compel CBIA, the operators of Caneel Bay, and the Interior Department to thoroughly uncover and eliminate the contamination.

The group says the National Park’s 2017 commissioned report found six testing sites with confirmed soil contamination with one site confirmed with groundwater contamination. The chemicals of concern impacting soil consist of pesticides, semi volatile organic compounds silver, arsenic, barium, cadmium, PCBs, selenium, and mercury. They say these soil impacts exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional screening levels for soil screening protection of groundwater. They say soil concentrations also exceed leachability criteria at these sites; therefore, resulting in a potential for shallow groundwater environmental impacts. Groundwater contaminants of concern are benzene, ethylbenzene, naphthalene, and 1- and 2-methylnaphthalene. They say these groundwater concentrations exceed their respective regional screening levels for tap water.

WTJX-TV, PBS Channel 12, is hosting a forum regarding Caneel Bay including panelist David DiGiacomo, vice president of Island Green, on Friday, Dec. 18, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., with the opportunity for the public to call in and comment. Todd Sampsell, president of the Friends of the V.I. National Park will also participate. It will be moderated by Pam Richards, the executive director of the Legislature and former commissioner of tourism. The public can participate by calling in. The call in number is 340-718-3339.