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CZM Approves Thatch Cay Development

May 15, 2008 — In a landmark decision Tuesday evening, the Coastal Zone Management Committee approved residential development for Thatch Cay.
The development will provide for slightly more than 100 dwelling units, and includes infrastructure for water, power, waste disposal and other utilities and amenities.
"The applicant's objective, as described in the environmental-assessment report, is to develop … a world-class residential community on Thatch Cay," the recommendation noted.
While most of the staff findings recommended approval without raising any objections, the recommendation did limit the developer only to the dock proposed for this development.
"Staff finds that it will be necessary to minimize any further alteration of the seabed surrounding Thatch Cay," the report said. "As such, no additional docks will be permitted for any future development."
The CZM made mention of its own limited ability to provide on-site monitoring of the development, and proposed a special condition requiring the developer to pay for an independent monitor that CZM will hire.
In its report, the staff recommended that the independent monitor "coordinate with CZM's resource ecologist and all other pertinent DPNR staff."
Local environmental advocates expressed a sense that this approval clears the way for the development of other outlying islands and cays.
"Unfortunately, this was the first time that a cay was approved for development," said Jason Budsan of the Environment Association of St. Thomas-St. John, in an interview after the meeting. "It was good that the CZM board members put special conditions on the future development, but it is almost as if Pandora's Box has been opened for future development of these extremely fragile remaining islands."
While disappointed in the outcome, Budsan lauded the way the developers approached the community for comment and input.
"It is a nice change to have the developers approach community groups for input prior to their submitting their Environmental Assessment Report for review by CZM so that the public at large will have a greater sense of input for future development," Budsan said.
Without commenting before the creation of the EAR, public input in the application process is not part of the application's record. Staff review is what generates stipulations and conditions like those set forth in this application.
For the CZM staff to be able to consider public input, it has to be submitted while the staff is still considering the developer's submission, Budsan noted.
The developers went to considerable lengths to mitigate objections of community groups, including moving the dock at the suggestion of DPNR's Fish and Wildlife Division.
While the application was approved, the 23 conditions placed on the development will require not only that the CZM make sure those conditions are met, but also that the public pay close attention.
The conditions include:
— The developer will have to develop a plan with the U.S. and V.I. Departments of Agriculture, as well as with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, to remove the feral goats on the cay. In addition, the developer must work with these same groups to develop a plan that addresses the introduction of domestic animals to the cay.
— The CZM will hire an independent monitor of the development at the applicant's expense. The monitor will be guided by a monitoring plan.
— The applicant is responsible for payment of submerged land fees. These fees amount to $35,000 per year. No adjustments for inflation or other increases were noted in the staff recommendation.
— To minimize road traffic on St. Thomas, Crown Bay Dock — not Red Hook — will be the primary staging area for construction materials for the development, and constructions workers are to be shuttled to and from the cay from the Thatch Cay-owned Red Hook Marina.
— No topsoil will be transported to the cay for landscaping.
— The developer will incur all costs associated with solid-waste disposal, and the waste will go to the Bovoni Landfill. However, other than noting that waste would have to be removed by vessel, there was no mention of how the solid waste would be transported to the Bovoni Landfill, nor was there recommendation for after the landfill's scheduled close.
— Mitigation measures to accommodate the tree boa snake will be coordinated with Fish and Wildlife.
— The applicant will maintain public access to the cay, specifying the manner and means of public access to it. A minimum of five public moorings will be installed.
The approval of the application sets forth a number of thresholds for the CZM and developers who wish to build on outlying islands and cays in the territory.
"Whether it is good or bad, you have set a precedent for future development of cays in the Virgin Islands," Budsan said.
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