April 26, 2004 – The Red Hook Community Alliance gained a major victory Monday as the Legislature voted unanimously to approve a bill providing funding for the government to acquire Vessup Beach.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Louis Hill, appropriates $3 million from the interest earned on debt service reserves for the purchase and preservation of property on Vessup and Muller bays on St. Thomas' East End.
"St. Thomas and St. John are being developed rapidly," Hill told his colleagues in urging them to approve the bill. "The islands have a small land mass — and in the absence of a land and water use plan, it is necessary to preserve some land. Let us save a little part of the East End for posterity."
Sen. Carlton Dowe commended the members of the Red Hook group who attended the Senate session for their fight to save the beach. Mentioning the North Side St. Thomas residents who have been fighting for years to get the Dorothea fire station reopened, he said the community as a whole needs to rally around such efforts.
"These issues must affect us all," Dowe said, pledging his support for the Vessup bill.
Two senators expressed reservations before casting their favorable votes.
"Where is the concern for the people of St. Croix?" Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste asked. "I want us to take care of all the islands."
Baptiste moved an amendment to the bill, to appropriate $1.5 million from the interest earned on the debt service reserves to the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department for developing and rehabilitating Great Pond on St. Croix.
The amendment passed on a 13-2 vote with Sens. Lorraine Berry and Celestino White voting against it.
White said the Vessup Beach bill's sponsors should have had the property appraised to find out its real worth before appropriating a specific amount of money for its purchase. "We need to stop giving people false hopes," he said.
Hill noted that the bill actually appropriates "$3 million or so much of it as may be necessary." He said about $4 million to $5 million in interest on the debt service reserves is generated each year.
All 15 senators voted to approve the measure as amended.
"I'm ecstatic that it had 100 percent approval by the Senate," Andrea King, Red Hook Alliance president, said. "Now we're just going to keep pushing with the executive branch."
King said the group members in the Senate chambers — all wearing "Save Vessup Beach" T-shirts — were going from there to the Carnival Village opening ceremony to demonstrate and call for the governor's support.
The alliance has been fighting since February against the proposed sale of the land surrounding Vessup Beach to a mainland private development concern.
"These senators are setting a precedent here," King said. "They're doing a good thing for the people of the Virgin Islands."
The bill "is a much-needed first step," Ann Marie Rost, a "concerned Virgin Islander," said. "But I don't want it to be the only step," she added.
Hill said approval of the bill was "a great opportunity to correct past errors of vision when properties slipped through the hands of the central government and were taken from use by residents of the Virgin Islands."
"With the governor's signature," Hill added, "Vessup Beach will be preserved as trust land, insuring public access and recreational use by residents in an area already threatened by overdevelopment."
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