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HomeNewsArchivesEAST'S REVIEW OF EAR FOR RITZ-CARLTON PROJECT

EAST'S REVIEW OF EAR FOR RITZ-CARLTON PROJECT

June 7, 1999
St. Thomas Committee
Coastal Zone Management Commission
c/o Department of Planning and Natural Resources
Foster Plaza
No. 396-1 Annas Retreat
St. Thomas, VI 00802
Re: Ritz Carlton Hotel Environmental Assessment Report (#CZT-2-97L&W)
Dear Sirs:
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the above-referenced permit application. Members of the Issues Committee of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John had the opportunity to review this permit application and would like to submit the following comments for your consideration.
General Comments:
1. The Environmental Assessment Report (EAR) does not utilize the most recent format that was adopted by the CZM Commission. It is the understanding of the members of the EAST Board that DPNR staff spent considerable time and effort making significant alterations to correct the deficiencies in the original EAR Guidelines; however, this application was deemed complete and was circulated for review with the old format.
2. There is no market analysis demonstrating the need for more hotel space on St. Thomas. When several hotels on St. Thomas are experiencing difficulties with occupancy, there should be greater attention to the actual needs that will be satisfied when coastal resources are committed to development. Had the application been submitted pursuant to the updated EAR Guidelines, a market study demonstrating the need (or lack thereof) for additional hotel facilities on St. Thomas would have accompanied the application.
Stormwater Runoff/Erosion and Sediment Control:
1. Ms. Julie Wright, Water Quality Program Supervisor at the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service, examined the deficiencies of the EAR with regard to measures which would mitigate construction and post-construction stormwater runoff and erosion and sediment control. Her findings were incorporated into a letter to the Coastal Zone Management Commission. Of significant import are:
* Runoff calculations, provided in the Appendix, need to be re-calculated utilizing correct hydrologic soil group and curve number information, as provided in the 1995 Virgin Islands Environmental Protection Handbook. Specifically, Cramer soils are hydrologic soil group C (not A), curve numbers for open space range from 86 for poor condition to 74 for good condition and curve numbers for low brush and grass range from 77 to 65 (i.e. a curve number of 49 is WAY TOO LOW). This means the developer has significantly under-estimated the present and future runoff rates for the site.
* Some of the sediment control practices described are inappropriate for use in the Virgin Islands, specifically the use of hay bale berms. The use of this practice has been discontinued in many areas of the states and is discouraged by the EPA because it is particularly ineffective. Here in the Virgin Islands where we have high intensity rain events and steep slopes, this practice is particularly useless.
Other considerations include:
2. The Erosion Control discussion in the EAR seems to indicate that the entire area will be hand-cleared. Clearing should be limited to the areas around the Hotel buildings, and the Pond areas should be left in their natural state. A landscaped buffer can be created around them.
3. Finally, there is no monitoring plan incorporated into the EAR, a necessary measure to ensure that marine resources are not degraded by runoff from upland construction.
Environmental Impacts:
1. The terrestrial survey conducted for this project was a preliminary one, and was done on about 10 acres of the total 27 acres. Only the "Old Bluebeards Beach" property, which had already been disturbed, was examined during this survey. A long distance visual inspection was done of the hillside, and noted that the hillside should not be disturbed. The hillside area and other areas not inspected are proposed to be impacted with hand clearing and parking lots.
2. The EAR only spoke about the Tree Boa and not even the two cactus species that were identified in the survey, and which are listed on the local endangered species list. Without a complete terrestrial survey of the entire site, the applicant cannot adequately address rare and endangered species.
3. There was nothing that indicated that there was a recent marine survey of Great Bay. The applicant used old reports from 1970 to 1986. Since that time, there have been hurricanes which could have altered the marine environment. The EAR only discussed Vessup and Muller Bay. There was no discussion of Great Bay, where the bulk of the new development will be located.
4. Nothing was stated about water quality. The applicant has not indicated what the present effect of the existing Hotel on water quality is. They should have tested the water in Great Bay, particularly for possible effects of the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) effluent disposal via irrigation on Great Bay.
5. The applicant indicates that 5.9 acres are to be used for WWTP effluent irrigation, but gives no information regarding specific types of vegetation to be used to insure that the effluent used for irrigation can be completely disposed of on-site.
6. Again, there is no monitoring plan to assess the impacts of the project on the water quality of Great Bay and determine if the erosion and sediment controls are working correctly.
7. There was no assessment of the parking lot runoff effects on the two existing mangrove ponds. EAST reviewers did not see any details of an oil separator at the points were runoff leaves the roads/parking lots and flow to Great Bay and the two ponds.
Zoning/Land Use Considerations:
1. The parking facility on Parcel 5-34 is not permitted. The parcel is zoned R-1, and does not permit the construction of ancillary facilities for commercial development.
2. One parking lot appears to be within a gut that drains into the South Pond. Alteration of the gut should not be permitted.
3. The existing operation does not encourage employee use of existing parking spaces. Instead, employees are encouraged (expected) to use the roadside adjacent to the hotel for parking. The applicant has not indicated whether this project will alleviate the current employee-parking situation at the hotel. DPNR should ensure that parking is made available to the employees.
4. The heights of the buildings obstruct visual access to the shoreline from adjacent properties. However, there was no discussion of the visual impacts or aesthetics of the property with regard to the surrounding community. The applicant does not address colors and blending in with the natural environment. Further, the proposed structures are taller than most that have been permitted on St. Thomas since the Coastal Zone Management Law was approved in 1978. To illustrate the severity of the impact, the tops of two buildings are at an approximate elevation of 80 feet, but the highest point of any of the elevations behind them is only 53 feet. Thus these buildings rise almost 30' above the highest elevation behind them. All proposed structures should be limited to three stories in height.
5. Pursuant to standards approved by the Coastal Zone Management Commission and proposed in the DPNR draft Virgin Islands Development Law, development should not be permitted (a) within 100 feet of mean high water on a beach; (b) within 150 feet of a salt pond; or (c) within150 feet of a mangrove ecosystem. One parking lot appears to be within 65 feet of one mangrove area and within 45 feet of another. The pool, beach house and Building D are also within 100 feet of the 1960 mean high water line, as depicted in the applicant's drawings.
Fiscal/Infrastructural Impacts:
While EAST bemoans the lack of a quantitative assessment of the traffic impacts of the proposed project on the public road system, the organization acknowledges that the project's probable impact is negligible. Further consideration should be given to the following:
1. The impact of the new development on the Bovoni dump has not been explained. The abi
lity of the dump to absorb the quantity proposed to be generated by this development, in addition to the current volume should be examined in light of the dump's capacity.
2. The fiscal impacts of fire and police protection and emergency health services are not quantified.
Social/Economic Impacts:
1. Under Social Impacts section, the EAR discusses public beach rights and states that the developer will dedicate part of Vessup Bay and Muller Bay beaches as a permanent public area. However, it is silent about Great Bay. On page 18, in the EAR, the applicant states that there will be vehicular control and security for the main beach area (Great Bay). By being silent about recreational use of Great Bay, the EAR gives the impression that there will be restrictive access to the beach at Great Bay. The applicant should be required to clearly address the use of the old Bluebeards Beach Club beach by the public.
2. Among social impacts not discussed:
* The physical isolation of another beach frequented by the public with the construction of large buildings, creating a visual and psychological barrier;
* The impact that such isolation will have on those who have traditionally utilized the project's beachfront for recreational activities; and
* The opportunities for local residents to become incorporated into the mainstay of the Territory's economy. The extent to which this is possible should have been quantified by utilizing information from the existing operation. If this has not been done to date, the social impacts of having to import workers from other areas should also be examined.
3. The fact that Ritz Carlton is currently an IDC beneficiary is not discussed. The economic benefits discussed in the EAR should also present an alternative scenario which depicts the economic benefits to the Territory if current IDC benefits are extended to the properties proposed to be developed.
Miscellaneous Comments:
1. There is nothing specific about the new Reverse Osmosis (R/O) intake except that a new one might be needed. This is crucial, but the applicant does not supply sufficient data for this to be given a permit.
2. The EAR discusses a boardwalk between the two properties, but provides no details. EAST is unsure how is this to be permitted.
3. An April 24, 1999 letter from the applicant states that the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) has a capacity of 80,000 gallons per day (gpd) with an average use of 32,000 gpd and peak days of 50,000 to 52,000 gpd. The letter further states that, with the new units, the usage will double. Thus, the applicant will have to expand the existing WWTP to 100,000 gpd to handle projected peak flows. It is not clear whether or not the existing plant will be expanded and how it will be done.
4. There was no sign-off from the Division for Archaeology & Historic Preservation. The one submitted only addressed the removal of the existing foundations, cistern and slab and not the new project. The Cultural Resources Survey submitted was for a proposed marina in Muller Bay. There was no study for the Great Bay area.
Alternatives to the Proposed Development:
There are several alternatives that have not been considered. Among them is a reconfiguration of the project with lower building profiles, further setbacks from environmentally sensitive areas, and conformity with the Zoning Law. This is one of the most important sections of the Environmental Assessment Report, and should not be given the short shrift that it has received in the past.
The Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John is of the opinion that the proposed project is inconsistent with the development, environmental and amenity policies of the Coastal Zone Management Act, and as such, should be denied. It is the opinion of this organization that this application should not have been accepted as complete, since it did not meet the CZM criteria for completeness in Terrestrial Resources, Rare and Endangered species, Marine Resources, Water quality including monitoring, WWTP effluent disposal, Visual Impacts, and no sign-off from the Division for Archaeology & Historic Preservation. The inadequacies for all of these items were addressed above.
EAST does, however, believe that if properly planned, this site can be developed in a manner that is consistent with the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Act and which will serve as a beneficial expansion of the Territory's economic base. Proper planning must begin with an Environmental Assessment Report that is consistent with the new format that was approved by the Coastal Zone Management Commission, proceed by addressing all pertinent areas of potential impact, incorporate an appropriate monitoring plan, and culminate with a project that is consistent with the goals and policies of the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Act.
Respectfully submitted,
Executive Board
Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John
Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John
Ritz Carlton Review

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