-- NEWPORT, R.I., July 2000 -- For the first time since Hurricane Luis in 1995, the most popular beach on St. Barths in the Caribbean now has 70 to 100 feet of sand in front of the hotels instead of the ocean pounding onto their walls. Beachgoers can now jog all the way from Eden Rock to Les Ilets and back.

That is one result of Operation Plage, a highly successful $300,000 beach renovation project nearing completion. The effort was spearheaded by a community-wide coalition of residents and businesses, including WIMCO, the leading vacation rental company on this French island, its sister company, Sibarth Real Estate Company, and the Union de Commercats.

“People didn’t believe it could be done. We didn’t believe we could do it, but it has been done. The effort has been highly successful and it’s very encouraging,” said Roger Lacour of Sibarth. “In St. Jean, particularly, it is spectacular.”

The beach near the small fishing village of Corrosol had been totally destroyed by storms and that is now restored as well, according to Lacour. “The townspeople were so pleased that they wrote a check to help pay for the project without even being asked.”

Operation Plage has already renovated Shell, Gouverneur, Public, Corossol and Saint-Jean beaches, including the portion at Filao Beach Hotel; and Colombier Beach, the last on the list, is almost completed, according to Janis Gordon of WIMCO, which has a portfolio of over 200 private villas and 13 hotels on the island of St. Barths.

The beach project was designed to repair storm damage over the last several years and restore the beaches to the condition that has helped make St. Barths one of the most exclusive vacation choices in the Caribbean. Operation Plage was a completely private initiative with businesses and many private residents raising the necessary money, hiring the equipment and manpower and supervising the work.

The next phase of the renovation will be replanting of trees on the island, but organizers are letting the importance of the beach improvements sink in first. “We want to let people breathe a little before we ask for more assistance,” Lacour said.