Questions surround Caneel Bay clean-up plans; NPS seeks comment on the future of the complex

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Thursday’s listening session took place online. (Screenshot)

A report on the hazardous materials and toxic chemicals contamination of the Caneel Bay Resort property is expected to be released in October, but the National Park Service will be doing another round of sampling and data collection this fall, and those results won’t be released until April 2022.

The release of that report will be followed by another public comment period, and a final and full report is expected to be released in May 2022, according to Park Service officials who spoke Thursday evening in an online meeting.

Until then, it’s unlikely anyone will know the full cost of the cleanup, now estimated at $ 6 million, or who will end up paying.

The resort, located within the boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park, is currently leased to CBI Acquisitions. The hotel has had several owners since it opened in 1956, but it closed when Hurricane Irma ravaged the land in September 2017. Whether the current and previous owners will all be held accountable remains an open question. .

Producing the report may seem like a long and tedious process, but the environmental engineering / cost analysis process is designed to initiate action that “will completely restore the site for the benefit of this generation and future generations,” according to Shawn. Mulligan, NPS Environmental Compliance and Cleaning Division. “We take this seriously,” he added.

The Park Service has the power under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act – better known as CERCLA or Superfund Law – to recover 100% of the costs, but that process has not yet started.

View of Caneel Bay from the Northshore lookout. (Photo source by Amy H. Roberts)

More than 500 CERCLA sites are now under the jurisdiction of the Park Service, Mulligan said.

Sampling and data collection for this report was carried out in February at three main sites:

– Zone 1: the wastewater treatment plant, which had limited low-risk contamination.
– Zone 2: the maintenance area, where landscaping and refueling activities were undertaken, which showed high levels of pesticides. Oil has also been identified, possibly from a documented spill in 2012.
– Zone 3: an old landfill near Honeymoon Beach, which featured a mix of hazardous and non-hazardous materials, including plastics and metals; the slope of the site suggests the possibility of seepage on the south side and erosion on the southeast side.

A map shows the three areas that were surveyed in February. (Screenshot)

Gaps in sampling that require further investigation include groundwater monitoring; sampling of suspected asbestos materials; additional lead-based paint sampling; determine if an underground storage tank at Cabin 7 has been removed; checking background arsenic levels; test levels in potential refill sources; and determining the amount of oil in the soil in the maintenance area.

Thursday’s meeting aimed to garner public comment on the more than 100 pages Draft final report for public review which details the extent of the contamination observed so far.

However, there were more questions asked by audience members than answers provided by officials. Among the questions asked:
– Will the toxic cleanup need to be completed before the hurricane cleanup begins?
– What will be the effect of the cleaning on the two companies – ZoZo’s Restaurant and VI Ecotours – which now operate on the property?
– When was the landfill – known to contain toxic substances – last used?
– How can the Park Service be sure to get the advice of all constituents on the island, which is vitally important?
– Will the CBIA, which holds the lease until 2023, be held responsible for the cleanup?
– How will the public be informed as efforts continue to clean up sites and recover costs?

Nigel Fields, superintendent of the Virgin Islands National Park, said the meeting was designed to solicit comments rather than answer questions from the public. He urged meeting attendees to submit their comments on what they would like to see happen, with or without their names, on the Planning, Environment and Public Comment initiative site, also known as PEPC. To comment, click on this link.

Written comments can also be mailed to Virgin Islands National Park at 1300 Cruz Bay Creek, St. John, VI 00830.

Comments will be accepted until July 9, but members of the public can request a two week extension by emailing [email protected]

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