83.2 F
Cruz Bay
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesWITNESSES SAY HOLD OFF ON BOTANY BAY PERMIT

WITNESSES SAY HOLD OFF ON BOTANY BAY PERMIT

Aug. 21, 2002 – The 16 people — two of them youngsters — offering testimony at a Coastal Zone Management hearing all said the St. Thomas CZM Committee should not grant the major permit being requested by Botany Bay Partners, either ever or at least until the developers present an acceptable environmental assessment report.
Despite a well-prepared presentation by architect and Botany Bay Partners representative William Karr with drawings and charts set up on easels, most of the witnesses at the Tuesday night meeting said the developers' environmental assessment report was seriously deficient.
The CZM hearing echoed the sentiments of witnesses at a Planning and Natural Resources Department hearing last November, where 20 people testified. All of them spoke in opposition to the rezoning requested to allow the proposed development, including a 125-room hotel, 80 time-share units, 55 condominium units and about 40 residential lots on the pristine property on St. Thomas's West End. (See "Only developers defend Botany Bay plans".)
However, ongoing vocal opposition by preservationists, a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John that was later dismissed, and a DPNR recommendation that the developers be given a zoning variance instead did not stop eight senators — since dubbed the "Botany Bay Eight" — from approving the zoning change in December. Nor did they stop the governor from signing the rezoning into law less than two weeks later.
With the rezoning in place and an application submitted for the CZM major permit, Tuesday's public hearing was the next step in the process required for the project to move ahead.
The politics
One witness suggested the action taken by the eight senators and the governor could be political suicide. Chayne Creque, a tour operator and fireman, said, addressing Karr, "It looks like you are putting the government in your pocket."
In his 51 years, Creque said, he has never "been beyond the gate in Fortuna," where the 366-acre Botany Bay Estate lies.
Turning to the audience and addressing St. Thomas administrator Louis Hill, Creque said, "Take this message back to the governor and the senators: This is not good for their political futures."
St. John resident and property owner Wilma Marsh Monsanto said she opposes the development but doesn't blame the developers. "Where are our leaders?" she asked.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg was the only legislator in attendance. The Senate Committee of the Whole was in session on St. John at the same time, and four of the other six St. Thomas-St. John district lawmakers were at that meeting — Sens. Lorraine Berry, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Roosevelt David and Carlton Dowe — as were Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd and St. Croix Sens. Douglas E. Canton Jr. and David Jones.
Monsanto at one point turned to Karr and said, "It's not too late to go down in history, to say, 'We give this to the people of the Virgin Islands.'"
Karr later suggested that Monsanto donate some of the 240 acres she has for sale on St. John to the people of the Virgin Islands.
A seventh grader at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School had her own message for Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. "I wish the governor would make this a park instead of a hotel," Shanice Carmona told the CZM committee.
The environment
Along with being home to some of the island's healthiest remaining coral reefs and a nesting site for endangered sea turtles, the Botany Bay area also is rich in history. Pottery and pre-Columbian artifacts from at least one Taino settlement, possibly dating as far back as 700 A.D., have been found on the property, along with the ruins of a bridge, a step-down cistern and a sugar factory with a horse-drawn sugar mill. Graves of what may have been at least 100 slaves also were discovered at the site.
Botany Bay was designated an Area of Particular Concern in 1993 after studies of the area were done. Karr said that is exactly why Botany Bay Partners has integrated a 1991 APC study into its development plans. Reiterating what he has said before, he added, "What is the advantage of marketing this as an eco-tourism resort if we intend to destroy it?"
But none of the environmentalists at the meeting were buying it.
Sandra Romano, a marine biologist and zoologist specializing in corals and coral reefs, called four sections of the mandatory environmental assessment report "grossly deficient." She said the report "contains no thorough study of the marine resources in Botany Bay or Sandy Bay."
In response to concerns raised, Romano said, the developers conducted a "cursory underwater study" which found "no visible living hard bottom, coral or benthic communities in the bay."
Karr also said Monday night that studies conducted by the developers found that "both Sandy Bay and Botany Bay are northern exposure bays and are not protected by shallow offshore reefs." This, he said, "acts to prevent the growth of large branching coral masses and to restrict the larger bottom-type fishes to deeper areas off shore."
But Romano, who said she has "visited and rapidly surveyed Botany and Sandy Bay with other marine biologists," stated that they have found "a healthy reef community there, thriving with fish, hard corals, sea fans, algae and many other marine creatures."
Romano also said the environmental report contains no analysis of the potential impact of construction on the marine environment. Nor does it adequately address the risk to endangered sea turtles, she added.
The only survey done was conducted over four consecutive days in September 2000, she said. Despite a recommendation by the those who carried it out that surveys be repeated weekly during nesting season, from June to November, this has not been done, she said.
The League of Women Voters, which months ago said there were eight pages of deficiencies in the initial environmental assessment report, reinforced Romano's comments. Colette Monroe, co-chair of the LWV's Environmental Quality Committee, said, "The League is concerned that the impact of the total project on the existing ecosystem has not been adequately addressed." She added, "Complete animal and plant life surveys are not included in the EAR. Also lacking are full surveys of archaeological and marine resources."
The reports in the CZM application, Monroe said, are "clearly labeled" as being "preliminary or cursory."
"Based on these and other problems," she said, "the League of Women Voters recommends that the permit for this project be denied, or the final decision postponed until the EAR contains full resource survey information with complete impact statements for the proposed project."
The cultural significance
Sean LaPlace, a young 10th-generation St. Thomian, said, "It's my ancestors that could be buried down there."
And Shanice Carmona said she had been "lucky to visit Botany Bay four times," where she saw fish and petroglyphs.
St. Thomian environmentalist Caroline Browne said that as a person of African-Caribbean descent, "I am opposed to any development in Botany Bay … Botany Bay represents the history on my Carib ancestors and also that of my African forebears via the slave trade."
Browne, who has been at the forefront of opposition to the development, said, "Before we have had a chance to understand our history, it seems to be vanishing right before our eyes." Before the hearing, she said, she had asked the CZM committee to allow residents to visit the property, "so we can have an opportunity to see … Botany Bay in its unspoiled beauty."
Donastorg, an outspoken opponent of the Botany
Bay project, agreed. "Open the gates to Botany Bay before any further hearings," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of the people have not seen it. We've been locked out for 50 years. How many people know what's at stake here?"
Steve Prosterman, marine environmentalist and former president of EAST, also favored that idea. "If we were able to see this site like we can see Magens Bay," he said, "people would be as appalled as they are at the idea of developing Magens Bay."
But Karr said the access issue is one more reason residents should be happy about the development. One of the benefits offered by Botany Bay Partners will be public access to the beach and "controlled access to the historical sites through DPNR," he said.
Karr also said that anyone who had approached him requesting a tour of the site had been granted one. Some audience members audibly disagreed with that statement.
Promises, promises
Several hearing witnesses expressed skepticism about assurances offered now that might not be kept down the road.
Judith Grybowski, an East End resident for 30 years, said that, thanks to "promises made and forgotten," she, her husband, Kirk Grybowski, and their neighbors have lost their scenic views and are now living with generator noise and bright lights shining in their living rooms from the Ritz-Carlton Club. "It's like living in an industrial park, not a beautiful neighborhood," she said.
Grybowski said the Ritz-Carlton neighbors trusted the word of the developers and their representatives when they said the resort "needed more suites."
She said the area residents were told that "three buildings would nestle behind the hill, and we would only see the top of two roofs," none higher than the tallest palm tree. Now, she said, the hill is gone, and the buildings are two stories higher than the tallest palm tree.
Creque said he, too, is leery of "people coming and making promises." He suggested Water Island as a possible site for the planned development, or St. Croix, where "the economy is bad." Or, he added, "try to negotiate with Mrs. Monsanto" for some of her land.
Sean LaPlace lamented, "Everywhere I look, hotels, hotels, hotels — even houses that look like hotels. Look to the east — and don't do it to the west."
Karr said he would respond in writing to the concerns expressed.
The CZM committee chair, Austin "Babe" Monsanto, said the body has 30 days to decide whether to grant the major permit. He asked that anyone else wanting to make a statement send it in writing to the commission. The mailing address is CZM Division, Cyril E. King Airport Terminal Building, second floor, St. Thomas VI 00802. The fax number is 714-9524.
The committee is scheduled to announce its decision at a meeting set for 4 p.m. Sept. 13 in the DPNR hearing room at the airport.

Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice… click here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.