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CZM Denies Development Proposal from Environmental Association

May 31, 2007 — The St. Croix Environmental Association has a reputation for slowing down or stopping development proposals, but the tables were turned Thursday night as the Costal Zone Management Commission denied SEA's application to develop its 100-acre Southgate Coastal Reserve.
SEA's proposal, rejected during a CZM meeting at the Educational Curriculum Center, had nothing to do with condominiums or casinos. It was a proposal to build a reserve center, bird blinds, walking trails and a parking lot on its property, located between Green Cay Marina and Chenay Beach Resort.
Masserae Webster and commission Chairman Tyrone Seales, who voted against the project, said they liked the idea but they expressed concerns about access. Carol Kramer Burke, executive director of SEA, said that there would be public access to the beach "24/7."
Seales, however, kept referring to a gate. Burke said the gate was just to stop vehicular traffic to the beach during certain evening hours. Seales had a different opinion: "This is just a way to discourage public access."
He said he had visited the site recently and timed the walk from the proposed parking lot. It would take six minutes, he said, adding, "And that is not carrying coolers, tents or chairs." At such times, Burke responded, the gate would be open to allow campers to drive vehicles with gear down to the beach.
Seales also appeared upset at the idea that campers would need permits under SEA's proposal. Permits would only be required for people camping on SEA's property, said Andrew Simpson, an attorney representing SEA. People camping on the beach itself would not need permits, he said.
Some elements of the plan were designed for liability purposes, Simpson said, and if the government wanted to take liability for a certain access trail or parking lot, SEA might be able to accommodate some changes.
Lack of changes "dismayed" her, Webster said. She said she left the public hearing in April under the impression that SEA would make some changes to its plan.
Members of SEA carefully considered many different alternatives, such as moving the parking lot closer to the beach, as was suggested at the hearing, Simpson said. All alternatives were found by SEA members to have an unacceptable "environmental impact," he said: "SEA made a good-faith effort to find a compromise that was in line with its mission."
Webster said she thought environmentalists would be more supportive of traditional land use like camping at that beach. The SEA has no intention of interfering with camping on that beach during the Easter season, Burke said.
In her opening remarks, Burke said SEA had not seen the CZM staff recommendation, so she had nothing new to say. The staff recommendation indicated SEA's proposal was not consistent with CZM's regulations and should be denied.
Voting to accept the staff recommendation and deny the application were Webster, Seales, Neil Simon and Charles Peters. SEA can appeal the ruling to the Board of Land Use within 45 days or refile a new application with CZM in 120 days.
Burke said it would be up to the SEA's board of directors to decide the next step.
Southgate was created in 1999 and expanded in 2000 through gifts from an anonymous donor with an interest in birding and education. The property includes a coastal salt pond, mangrove forest, beach forest and upland grassland.
According to SEA's website, "The pond and surrounding wetlands provide habitat for many resident and migrant birds, including several species classified as threatened or endangered. Three species of sea turtles nest on the beach berm — all are classified as threatened or endangered."
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