March 30, 2005 – Atlantic Tele-Network's hopes for constructing a major commercial tower on Signal Hill, Hassel Island, might have met a dead end during a V.I. Port Authority Governing Board meeting Wednesday.
ATN's Chief Executive Officer Cornelius Prior had previously leased 2,000 square feet of land at Signal Hill from the Port Authority at $2,400 annually for twenty years in order to construct the tower. However, in February of 2003, VIPA canceled its lease with ATN saying the land was not zoned for such a construction.
ATN still pursued the matter, requesting in August 2004 that the Port Authority seek a zoning variance of the land for the tower's construction. ATN owns Choice Communications, a local wireless cable operator and Internet service provider.
The authority conducted a public meeting November 2004 to gather input about the matter, but those attending the meeting were divided on their stance for the tower, some saying it would be a benefit while others felt it would be an "eyesore." (See "Hassel Island Tower – Welcoming Symbol or Blotch?").
After investigating the matter, VIPA's Executive Director Darlan Brin was called to give a report with recommendations to the board.
On Wednesday, Brin presented his report to the board although no vote was taken on the matter due to lack of a quorum at the time. Board member Pamela Richards had left prior to the discussion of the report for a cruise ship arrival in St. Croix and member Dean Plaskett recused himself from any vote on the matter because of his position as commissioner of the Planning and Natural Resources Department, leaving the board without a quorum for action.
Brin said, as of Dec. 31, only 10 submittals were received from members of the community in response to the tower issue, and only two of the 10 were in favor of the proposal.
"Submittals not in favor were very concerned about the visual impact on the local community and the millions of visitors who come to our shores, and its conflict with such a historically designated site," Brin stated in his report.
Brin gave the board three options: no use of the land; erection of an approximately 90-foot tower disguised either as a "monopole or lighthouse monument" for the facilitation of communication capabilities of cell and computer uses; and utilization of the site for an Integrated Marine Monitoring and Surveillance System. Brin recommended the third option.
"Option No. 3 is being recommended based on the necessity to protect, secure and be aware of vessels traveling in and out of the waters of the harbor, whether a vessel is on its way to Crown Bay, the West Indian Company Dock or the Charlotte Amalie waterfront," Brin stated. "In this day and age it is a responsibility of the authority to take every measure within its means to ensure the protection of all vital marine facilities, natural resources and the economy."
Brin said the site is "ideally located" for the installation of a harbor security system, and such systems were being utilized at other U.S. ports as protective means.
He added, "The Port Authority should not wait until mandated by the federal government to explore the installation of a security system; therefore, this property should be reserved for the exclusive use of the authority."
Board member Leslie Milliner asked Brin what happened to the other lease that was entered into at the same time as ATN's, referring to a lease that would allow Edward "Harmon" Killebrew to provide tours of Hassel Island through his Island Treasures business.
Brin said that Killebrew's lease agreement, which was for 14,828 square feet of land on Hassel Island, was still in effect. The land is being rented to Killebrew at $18,572.16 annually, and has a surety guarantee clause signed by Prior.
Milliner asked whether the cancellation of Prior's lease jeopardized the guarantee clause in any way, but VIPA legal counsel Don Mills assured Milliner that the two leases were "separate and distinct" and one did not affect the other. Judith James, director of administration and finance, also confirmed that Killebrew was current on his lease.
Milliner queried as to the "real reason" for the cancellation of the lease to Choice, but Brin maintained that it was because the land was not zoned for the construction of a tower.
"I was disappointed that the Port Authority is not going to live up to its commitment to renew the lease to us," Prior said Thursday afternoon.
Prior said the lease was signed in all good faith several years ago, but VIPA went back on its 20-year contract with ATN because of a few people in the community who were not pleased with the idea of a tower on Hassel Island.
Attending Wednesday's hearing were: chairman Robert O'Connor Jr., and members Milliner, Plaskett, Richards, James Rodgers and Alva Swan. Members Hector Peguero and George Phillips were absent.
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