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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, July 7, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesBEAL DEAL OUTCOME IN JUDGE’S HANDS

BEAL DEAL OUTCOME IN JUDGE’S HANDS

Almost 25 years after the people of the Virgin Islands were given land at Great Pond Bay, a Territorial Court judge will soon decide whether the government can now trade it to Beal Aerospace.
On Tuesday, Judge Alphonso Andrews heard final arguments in the lawsuit that seeks to block the Beal-V.I. government land exchange. After commending all the parties involved in the legal fight, Andrews said he would issue a decision "soon."
"The Court opts to proceed cautiously, to issue a fair, just and legally sound decision. I will not rush," Andrews said. "How long? Not long."
The land exchange deal, approved by the Legislature on Oct. 5, would give Beal 14.5 acres of government land, called Camp Arawak, so that the company can build its $57-million world headquarters and rocket assembly plant. The company already owns more than 250 acres in the area, but it needs the Camp Arawak property for a portion of the proposed 320,000-square-foot building and adjacent parking lot.
In exchange for the land, the government would receive an equivalent amount of acreage in Estate Whim and Grange Hill.
The late Frank Wiesner deeded the Camp Arawak land in perpetuity to the people of the territory on Dec. 17, 1974. The property was to be held in trust by the government, which was supposed to develop it into a park.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen opposes the land swap. She contends that the government has no right to trade the land, which houses archeological ruins. On Oct. 8, Andrews granted Hansen’s request for a temporary restraining order against the land deal. Andrews ruled Gov. Charles Turnbull violated the public trust when he sent the land exchange agreement to the Senate for approval.
After the issuance of the TRO, lawyers for Beal affiliate Caribbean Space Technologies and the government battled with Hansen’s counsel Ned Jacobs for nine days over the issuance of a permanent injunction against the swap. Some 22 witnesses took the stand and more than 80 documents were entered into evidence. And the war of words continued on Tuesday.
"We’re dealing with a very special property," said Jacobs, who lives next to Camp Arawak. "This is a property that has a tremendous significance to the people of the Virgin Islands."
Jacobs argued that since Beal already owns 260 acres around Camp Arawak, it should be able to go ahead with its project without the public land. If the land is indeed traded, he said the public would lose access and therefore suffer injury.
"There is substantial impairment," he said. "The property won’t … be owned by the people. There is no significant legitimate purpose behind this (land exchange) bill."
Assistant Attorney General Michael McLaurin, representing the V.I. government, argued that the economic gains that Beal Aerospace will bring to the territory, specifically St. Croix, outweigh the claims brought by Hansen and Jacobs.
"If there is a compelling state interest, the government is permitted to make different interests in different situations," he said.
Meanwhile, CST lawyer Darryl Dodson said that the project faces intense scrutiny from local and federal regulatory bodies.
"Before Beal can turn a single spade of dirt, it must go through an extensive Coastal Zone Management process," Dodson said. "If Beal doesn’t satisfy every decision maker, it can’t go forward with the process."
Mclaurin and Dodson both said the fundamental issue in the case is not so much the property as it is one of a separation of powers.
"The Legislature has done nothing beyond its authority," he said.

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