March 9, 2006 — The consensus of the 75 people attending the Town Hall meeting Tuesday to address the proposed development of Annaly Bay was that there was no consensus.
Gordon Finch, a consultant for Florida-based developer Throgmartin Company, said, "If we took 50 people out there tonight and asked them for their alternatives to the Throgmartin Company's plan to develop Annaly Bay we would get 50 different alternatives."
Besides Finch, the panelists included Onaje Jackson, Sustainable Systems and Designs president; May Cornwall, Waste Management Authority executive director; Carol Burke, St. Croix Environmental Association executive director; Kendall Petersen, St. Croix Farmers In Action representative; ecologist Olasee Davis; Paul Chakroff, Nature Conservancy executive director; and Hortense Rowe, USVI Coalition executive director.
Although the focus of the meeting, held at St.Croix Educational Complex, was on Throgmartin's proposed development, other general issues relating to sustainable development were discussed. (See "Annaly Bay Developer Says Project May Take Years").
Chakroff presented a slide show documenting an alternative development plan for Annaly Bay conceived by the Nature Conservancy.
With a computer-generated aerial view of the scenic north shore he showed where Throgmartin plans to build three hotels, and where the conservancy's plan would put them.
The plan stayed pretty close to Throgmartin plans in size but moves the hotels up the hillside away from the shoreline, in what is referred to in Coastal Zone Management regulations as Tier 2.
Chakroff said this would dramatically cut down the impact the development would have on the marine habitat. He ended the presentation with slides of successful hotels on other islands located on the heights instead of the beach. The hotels in Hawaii, Bermuda and Puerto Rico utilize trolleys and shuttles to get guests to the beach.
He stated at the beginning of his presentation, "Neither the Nature Conservancy nor I are antidevelopment. The Nature Conservancy works every day with corporations around the world – including businesses in the tourism sector — Disney Corporation, Royal Caribbean and Westin Hotels and Resorts — oil and gas."
Chakroff added, "We are for sustainable, planned development that serves the long-term needs of the local community — development that is compatible with conservation of our natural and cultural heritage, as well as sustainable economic growth, factors requisite for a high quality of life for the people and other beings resident to the island of St. Croix."
Several members of the audience brought up what impact such a massive development would have on the infrastructure of St. Croix. One audience member said 6,000 additional hotel rooms were being proposed for St. Croix, which now has less than 2,000 hotel rooms. He said, "We already have problems with our landfill."
Finch said he did not believe, even if all the developments proposed went through, that 6,000 hotel rooms would be built on St. Croix.
Cornwall said, "It is all about planning up front." She said that developers should be made to pay for any impact they will have on the infrastructure.
Another audience member asked if developers could not be mandated to use energy-efficient light bulbs and make other practical efforts so as to not burden the Water and Power Authority.
Kelly Gloger, a senior associate with Sustainable Systems and Designs, said none of those items were mandated, but they were brought to developers' attention.
The V.I. Energy Office gives developers in the permitting process a packet outlining energy-efficient strategies and the potential for using alternative energy sources.
Gloger added that many communities on the mainland rate new buildings for their energy efficiency and those builders who made energy-efficient buildings were rewarded economically.
One resident pointed out that elected officials were "noticeably absent" from the meeting. However, moderator Valdemar Hill expressed appreciation that Kevin Rames and Chris Elliott, developers of the William and Punch resort, attended. Elliott said, "We want to know what people are thinking. These are our neighbors."
Davis has been writing opinion pieces in the V.I. Daily News opposing the development at Annaly Bay. Davis, who often leads hikes in the area, cited its historical importance. He said runaway slaves often found refuge there. He also said it was here where slaves chose to jump off cliffs instead of continuing their enslavement. He called the land sacred.
Davis recently wrote in one of his columns, "We in the Virgin Islands are so lost historically that we would allow development to take place on sacred grounds where hundreds of enslaved Africans gave their life for our freedom."
Jackson gave the initial presentation and emphasized a point that many of the other speakers agreed with: St. Croix has to find a balance between economic development, environmental protection and social and cultural development.
He said sound development plans grow out of input from local community leaders early in the process.
Chakroff said, "Adam Holwerda, Throgmartin's director of international development, has stated that the natural beauty of the land is what attracted Throgmartin to the site. I contend that [one] their plan as presented will destroy that natural beauty and [two] alternative plans can provide equal economic development, while preserving the natural beauty, the cultural heritage, and access to the site for the people of St. Croix as well as visitors to our island."
Efforts on providing input to the development process is not expected to stop at this town meeting. Michael Baron, a member of SEA's advocacy committee, sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, with a copy of the plan presented by Chakroff. SEA had assisted the Nature Conservancy with the plan.
Hill said that summaries of all the presentations given during the town meeting would be written and published.
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