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Tuesday, July 16, 2024


July 20, 2002 – In a unanimous vote via teleconference links connecting St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John on Friday, the Coastal Zone Management Commission adopted the St. Croix East End Marine Park Plan that had been approved by the Marine Park Advisory Committee two days earlier.
The plan, to create the territory's first major marine park, will now go to the Legislature for review and action.
The park as proposed will encompass about 60 square miles. Although they fall within the park boundaries, Buck Island and the Green Cay Bird Sanctuary, which are managed by separate entities, are not included. The boundaries will be Cheney Bay on the northeast side, Point Udall to the east, and around the southeast westward to Great Pond.
The plan outlines four usage categories: No Take Zone, Recreation Area, Turtle Wildlife Preserve and Open Fishing Area. In a No Take Zone, no fish or living organisms may be removed. In a Turtle Preserve, pot and line fishing are allowed. Open Fishing Areas prohibit trawling. In Recreational Areas, commercial fishing is prohibited, and boats may only be moored on buoys.
Prior to the vote, CZM Commission members reviewed revisions to a May 24 draft of the plan proposed by the advisory committee — community organizations, government agencies and invited stakeholders — at a meeting held on Wednesday at the St. Croix offices of the Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy prepared the 114-page draft, which sets forth the proposed park boundaries, the financial support required to manage and monitor the area, zoning restrictions and an administrative structure.
Copies of the May 24 draft are available for public viewing at all of the territory's public libraries and at the CZM offices on St. Croix and St. Thomas. The adopted revision, which affected 15 of the 114 pages, will be made available shortly, CZM officials said.
At Friday's meeting, Janice Hodge, CZM director, urged the commission to move forward with the plan. She said further delays in establishing the park would jeopardize funding options being offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the next phase of the project. Grants and technical assistance are available to help reduce the impact of pollution, increase protection, and reduce threats to coral reefs once protected areas are established, she said.
In the Virgin Islands, according to the National Oceanographic Data Center, threatened reefs include those in Francis Bay, Great Lameshur Bay and Trunk Bay off St. John; John Brewers Bay, Flat Cay Reef and Perseverance Bay off St. Thomas; and Boiler Bay, Isaac Point, Robin Bay and Teague Bay on St. Croix's East End.
Hodge said setting out boundary markers and establishing a visitor center "will be the first step to know there is a park." She said no rules and regulations will be initiated until further public discussion takes place. But she asked the commission not to delay the vote, so that the plan can be finalized by the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30.
Concerns about community input
Commission members raised concerns raised about the inclusion of other organizations in the plan and the haste with which it was completed. Hodge told them, "A lot of the background that was needed to drive the plan was already there. It would not be of service to delay it for 11 to 12 more years."
From last September, community meetings were held to garner input for the plan. DPNR invited individuals and organizations to collaborate on its development, including the U.S. Department of Interior, the University of the Virgin Islands, the Nature Conservancy and other not-for-profit agencies.
A public meeting was held on July 12 on the UVI St. Croix campus to allow final input from the community on the plan. About a hundred residents attended, some voicing strong opposition to zoning details, mooring fees and continued use by campers of recreational areas such as Cramer's Park and Coakley Bay. Many felt their views had not been included in the plan.
Other issues discussed at the July 12 meeting included closing areas to recreational fishing, banning anchoring, taking moorings out of private hands, imposing of fees and head taxes, the need to clarify definitions, allowing boat fishing for fishing guides, and identifying new public-access areas through Estates North Slob, Grapetree Bay and Turner's Hole.
"It's regrettable that some of the stakeholders had been omitted, which led to the dismay last week," Bill Turner, director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, which favors the plan, said on Friday.
After Wednesday's meeting, Virdin Brown, chair of the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council, said he was concerned about the rush to finalize the plan. But John Beagles, CZM Commission vice chair, said prior to the vote on Friday, "It's not written in stone. I do understand this. The public hearing seemed to be a lot of misunderstanding. It's admirable we have done this in a very short time."
Hodge cited various newspaper articles tracking developments toward the establishment of the park and announcing public meetings to discuss it. "I firmly believe sufficient opportunity was provided for public input," she said, adding that the plan allows for continued revision.
Feedback the commission received following Wednesday's meeting include the following:
– Barry Devine, chief scientist at the Conservation Data Center said he believes the plan "has the greatest support of the committee … and the public" and urged the commission to adopt it to provide for "protection and recovery of our valuable natural resources."
– UVI Cooperative Extension Service specialist Olasee Davis said, "Public hearings, discussions and debates took place amongst a cross section of people … This plan is not perfect, but it is a plan we all can work with in establishing a marine park on St. Croix and for the Virgin Islands."
– The St. Croix Yacht Club said it has supported the establishment of an East End marine park for 20 years but raised concerns about recommendations to charge $1,000 a year to moor in Teague Bay, saying it would cause the club substantial economic hardship. It also asked that in developing use details for the park, all fishermen, the yacht club and East End waterfront property owners be included in discussions.
– The Ocean Conservancy recommended that recreational line fishing be allowed some distance out into the water. Hodge told the commission there are areas set aside for recreation on the shoreline and said that agreement was reached to "start the No Take Area a minimum of 100 feet from the shoreline."
The projected cost of implementing the plan over its first five years is more than $5 million. The proposal recommends seeking $800,000 from the U.S. Commerce Department and estimates that revenues of $300,000 a year could be generated from research, diving and mooring fees and fishing licenses. With an estimate of about one million visitors annually to the territory, the plan also proposes a $5 tourist tax to generate additional funds to preserve marine parks for all to enjoy.
A plan 40 years in the making?
In 1960, the U.S. Department of Interior designated St. Croix's East End as a nature preserve. In 1998, President Clinton created the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to foster an awareness of the coral reef ecosystems. "If from the '60s this was in place, why did it take over 40 years to protect our island?" St. Croix CZM Committee member Albert Hewitt asked on Friday. "We cannot delay this. It must be done now to preserve what we now enjoy for future generations," he said.
In 1978, the Legislature passed the Coastal Zone Management Act to protect, maintain, preserve, enhance and restore the quality of the territory's natural and man-made coastal, scenic and historic resources. The CZM Commission falls under the Planning and Natural Resources Department. Its mandate
is described on the V.I. CZM web site.
The commission by law consists of 15 voting members, five each from St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John which function as separate committees for their respective islands. Current commission members are Alton W. Adams Jr., Robert Mathes, Austin Monsanto and Sarah Simmonds on St. Thomas; Beagles, Christian Christensen and Hewitt on St. Croix; and Julien Harley, commission chair, Brion Morrisette and Madeline Sewer on St. John. The other five seats are vacant. The Planning and Natural Resources commissioner is an ex-officio, non-voting member.
Harley and Sewer were absent for Friday's vote.
Through the marine park plan, CZM hopes to monitor the impact of human activity, assure orderly and balanced use of resources, address the social and economic needs of the residents, provide affordable recreational options, maintain or increase coastal water quality — which includes controlling sewage discharge, erosion and runoff — and preserve and protect the traditions which have become the rights of the public.
On Dec. 15, 1999, then-Territorial Court Judge Alphonso Andrews rendered a decision directing the V.I. government to designate the Great Pond Bay property and great house as a public recreational facility and museum. Great Pond Bay is included in the marine park plan. The ruling came in a case where Andrews blocked the acquisition of the property by Texas-based Beal Aerospace, which proposed to build a rocket assembly plant on the site. The area of about three square miles of wetlands is home to numerous species of birds, nesting turtles and marine life.
On Dec. 5, 2001, CZM received the prestigious NOAA Award from the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force for its commitment to developing the territory's first marine park.
Corals are tiny plant-like marine animals that depend on clean, clear waters and sunlight to thrive. The coral reefs are home to fish, shellfish, sea turtles and lobsters. Their loss can affect the livelihood of residents, fisheries and recreational industries. The threats to coral reefs include pollution, overfishing, damage from anchoring and boat impact, severe storms and global climate change. For more information on coral reefs, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration web site.

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