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CZM HEARS GOOD, BAD AT GOLDEN RESORTS HEARING

Jan. 9, 2004 – About a hundred people gathered at the St. Croix Curriculum Center in Kingshill, St. Croix, at a public hearing Thursday to review and give testimony on the application for development of Golden Resorts. An environmental assessment report that supports the application was also presented.
Testifiers seemed to be evenly split between those who want the economic stimulus of development and those who do not want to disturb the delicate ecological balance of the area surrounding the Great Pond. Those for development cited the struggling economy, high unemployment, lack of air traffic and tourists to St. Croix. Others appealed to the board to reject the application and urged St. Croix to move toward eco-tourism, heritage tourism and agri-tourism.
For New Jersey businessman Paul Golden, an approval from the V.I. Coastal Zone Committee would clear the way for the groundbreaking of his 400-room hotel, casino, spa, conference center and 18-hole golf course, which encompasses 297 acres on St. Croix's south shore.
Dean Plaskett, commissioner of the V.I. Planning and Natural Resources Department, rejected Golden's first application. According to Plaskett the application was rejected because it did not include some phases of the project. Plaskett, however had no objections to the rezoning request(see Economy, ecology are resort rezoning issues).
Kevin Rames, counsel to Golden Resorts, assured the committee they were ready to move forward with their presentation. Calling the resort "a personal vision of Golden's to help reinvent and revitalize the tourism-based private sector on St. Croix," Rames requested a favorable decision from the committee. Accompanying Rames were co-counsel Treston Moore, civil engineer J. Stephen Dieter, and Bio Impact environmentalists.
St. Croix CZM Committee members at the hearing were John Beagles, chairman; and members Albert Hewitt and Christian "Ollie" Christensen.
Present also were Plaskett, representing DPNR, and Julie Loquidia and Dr. Mary Lou Coulston for Bio Impact.
In a letter to Plaskett, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services gave their opinion on the development of the property, based on information given by Service biologists and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The report questioned plans for building six-story buildings so close to the beach, the impact of lights on the nesting turtles, and impacts to the bay-mouth bar and near-shore seagrass beds. "The applicant must understand that the proposed site does not have a beach that can be considered usable by the paying public," the report stated.
Golden said the area is perfect for the type of resort he will build. "It will be a nature preserve," he said. "We plan to clean and maintain the salt pond."
"The sea is aqua blue and the snorkeling and diving is world class," he added.
Peter Lock, representing the interest of Chenay Bay, looks forward to the "trickle-down effect" that could mean increased business for the smaller hotels on St. Croix. He said this project is needed for economic stability on the island: "Crime is a direct result of our struggling economy."
Realtor Dwayne Ford shared Lock's opinion. "If we don't get 2500 rooms on St. Croix, the planes will go away; we might as well tell the tourists to go away." He said that his property-management company would benefit from the addition of a flagship hotel.
Andy Simpson called the environmental assessment report "junk science." He pointed to insufficient cistern capacity, no analysis of visual impact, sewage demands not adequately addressed, impact on the seagrass beds and the endangered white-crown pigeon, the least tern and the peregrine falcon.
Summing up her opinion succinctly, Nina Cooke said, "I support the right plan in the right place, but this plan is misguided."
Carl Christopher said that "we are all stakeholders in this development," referring to the $32.5 million in bonds that were floated by the government to finance the convention center. "Why is he chosen to receive our public funds when there are questions about him? There are question marks all around this whole project."
The commission also read letters in favor of the development from Big Beard Charters; Roland Groder, past president of the Realtors Association; the Chamber of Commerce and Bacci Duty Free Shops.
The CZM committee will make a decision on approval, disapproval or a conditional approval on the project within 30 days.
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