Feb. 28, 2002 – As 20-some St. Croix residents casually flowed into the Territorial Court jury assembly room in Kingshill to learn details about the proposed Great Pond Bay Park, little did they know that they would be getting a lesson in history as well as information on environmental, preservation and public-access issues.
Residents of the estates surrounding the site of the proposed public park, environmentalists, an architect and political professionals joined the park advisory committee at the meeting Tuesday night to review the draft plan for the property.
The plan was developed at the order in December 1999 of then-Territorial Court Judge Alphonso Andrews Jr. when he blocked efforts by the V.I. government to swap the 14.5-acre coastal area known as Camp Arawak for land Beal Aerospace proposed to buy elsewhere on St. Croix. Andrews ordered the government to develop a public recreational facility at the site, and gave it 60 days in which to submit a plan for doing so.
The Housing Parks and Recreation Department was given the task of drafting the plan, which it completed in February 2000 and submitted to the Turnbull administration Andrews had stipulated that the park plan include a means of funding and that the money be deposited in a account separate from the General Fund. When Housing Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ira Hobson submitted the plan, he warned that there was no funding to implement it. His department has now applied for Community Development Block Grant funding for a part of the project.
Tuesday night, the five-member advisory committee fielded questions and garnered praise for efforts to launch the court-ordered plan to restore an area of more than 1,100 acres of land. The panel comprised representatives of the Housing Parks and Recreation and the Planning and Natural Resources Departments, an environmentalist and two private citizens.
The southeastern property represents more than 600 years of history, including the era of Danish rule from 1735 through 1917, and can be considered one of the most anticipated archaeological finds on the island, architect and historic preservationist William Taylor said. "The greathouse is an exceptional building," he said.
The lush landmass also is an environmental treasure trove, home to numerous species of birds, turtles and sea life.
Esthetic interest vs. environment need
Edwin Thomas asked the committee if there were plans to clean up the 150-foot mass of seaweed draped across the shoreline that prevents residents from swimming in the pristine waters. "You have to understand nature," environmentalist Olassee Davis responded. "The seaweed was placed there for a reason." Davis is a former board member of the St. Croix Environmental Association, or SEA, which promotes protection of the island's natural environment and monitors projects that can impact upon it.
Davis said his greatest concern for the property is soil erosion. Recalling a time not that long ago when "a sugar mill was on the shoreline," he observed, "Now it is in the ocean." He said action must be taken rapidly to prevent further erosion, or there will be no land to debate about.
In the 1970s, the Great Pond site with its historic greathouse was used as a facility, Camp Arawak, to train at-risk youth and adults for employment in the hotel and construction industries. Advisory committee member Valmy Thomas spoke of the role he and Hortense Rowe, then commissioner of the old Conservation and Cultural Affairs Department, played in securing permission from Frank Wiesner to provide the support services for delinquent youth.
"I agonized in court every day only to be barred from testifying," Thomas said as he spoke passionately of their dream that was squashed. "Because of changes in the executive post, it has remained dormant for over 20 years," he said of the property.
Wiesner donated the Camp Arawak land to the people of the Virgin Islands in 1974. The deed stipulated that the property, with its colonial-era greathouse and other cultural and archeological artifacts, be developed into a park. The greathouse has fallen into disrepair and the property remains undeveloped.
At Tuesday's hearing, residents asked about the park's planned layout and hours of operation, whether it would be managed by a non-government agency, how the volume of visitors would be controlled, what would be done to preserve its tranquility, and what security measures would be in place.
One Sally's Fancy resident said she walks the beach every morning and treasures the glow of the sunrise in the eastern sky. But she complained of people she described as squatters who call the beach their home and asked Hobson why her numerous requests over the years for their removal have gone unanswered. "We have received your complaint and a letter has been forwarded to DPNR," committee chair Roy Canton Jr., a Housing Parks and Recreation staff member, replied.
Will Moorefield and his wife, Chanda, said they are the "squatters" described, but that it has been their quest to preserve the property until the government gets its plan rolling. The two-year "residents" offered the committee support on behalf of "The Friends of Great Pond," which they described at a group of some 60 residents who roll up their sleeves monthly to clean up the property "We have planted trees and cut the grass," Moorefield said.
Objection to historical omissions
Impassioned comments were offered by Great Pond Bay resident Ned Jacobs, an attorney who represented Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen in her lawsuit against Beal Aerospace and the V.I. government that led to the court order thwarting plans for the property to be developed as the site of a rocket assembly plant. Jacobs told the committee that the plan's narrative ignores an important element of the land's history. In the court case, he said, an 1803 mortgage was read into record that listed the names of 74 slaves who worked the plantation and whose value was included as property attached to the estate.
Hansen then objected to "the true leaders of this project" not being recognized in the narrative. The 10-page document, which was distributed at the meeting, details the property's legal mandate, historic and archaeological significance, charitable trust and mission. Hansen said it failed to mention how her efforts, 19 plaintiffs on record, and ultimately a Territorial Court judge won the rights to secure the property on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands.
Jacobs and Hansen asked that a bronze plaque be affixed to the greathouse listing the names of the slaves and that the site be named for Judge Alphonso Andrews, who was not reappointed to the bench by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull two years ago, for his ruling in the landmark case. Hansen also asked that the greathouse be named for Jacobs, "who has not charged me a cent for his service."
Hansen told the park planning committee that she had "urged the members of my committee not to come" to the hearing. "They are angry," recalling their sweat and toil during the trial, she said. And she reminded the park advisory committee that it was her court case that allowed them to sit on the advisory board and make their recommendations. "Why haven't you presented your proposal to the Legislature?" Hansen asked. "Funding is our business."
In addition to the greathouse, the Great Pond property includes slave quarters, factory remains, stables and other 18th century ruins. Some familiar Crucian names of former plantation estate owners are Heyliger, Romney, Nanton, Cornelius and Hartmann, for which the adjoining property is still named.
As the hearing ended, Hobson told those who attended: "When one feels very strong about an issue, it is natural to defend it strongly. But you have remained receptive to the needs of our people."
Canton said the committee would tak
e all suggestions advanced at the meeting into consideration and would provide comment later on why some were not implemented. "First, we must get the site survey," he said. "The wetlands erosion control plan will dictate what can really be done with the property."

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