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Boaters Organize Around Liveaboard Clampdown

Sept. 10, 2008 — Concerned about increased enforcement of environmental laws, members from all facets of the marine community have banded together to form an organization aimed at protecting their interests.
Galvanized after the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) handed out eviction notices to liveaboard boaters in a number of areas on the eastern end of St. Thomas, boaters met Wednesday night at the St. Thomas Yacht Club to establish an organization to work collaboratively with government officials. (See "DPNR To Meet With Boaters Before Evictions.")
Paige Passano leveraged her position at Budget Marine, telling boaters about the meeting, which brought out 75 people from all aspects of the boating community and marine industry. This first meeting would focus on establishing a steering committee and accrue a list of contacts, Passano said.
"We needed a marine association with a voice so we can communicate to our government in hopes that we can have some positive involvement in the planning process," Passano said.
The liveaboard eviction issue is not the group's only concern, and it will represent all aspects of the marine industry, said Passano, who is spearheading the organization of the group.
Indeed, when asked to call out the different interests of the group, there were at least dozen separate interests represented, ranging from large-scale shipping, fisherman and sailors who have won Olympic medals to dive boats, charter and bareboat companies, as well as liveaboard and recreational boaters.
"This is a relatively good representation of the marine community — liveaboards, dive companies, charters …" Passano said. "I think everybody's interests need to be taken into account. We're all connected, whether you like to admit it or not."
Volunteers for the steering committee came from diverse marine interests, and included Passano, Steve Carpenter, Dave Chapman, Dave Cooper, Diane Gonda, Jim McManus, Gordon Hackstaff, Stan Louden and Omar Van Rooyen.
DPNR was even represented at the meeting by the assistant director of its Environmental Enforcement Division, Roberto Tapia.
"This has started well," Tapia said. "I think this is great, and I welcome it."
The new steering committee should be represented at an upcoming meeting of the St. Thomas East End Reserves (STEER) core planning committee, Tapia said.
STEER is developing the management plan for the Cas Cay/Mangrove Lagoon and St. James Reserves, where the liveaboard boaters face eviction.
Additional first steps for the group will be to develop an email list and a website with forums for discussion. Website services will be available in about a week, according to Joe Mastroianni.
While a mission statement will come out of the online forums, one was suggested at the meeting, Passano said. Evelyn Nye of Custom Canvas offered, "To promote and safeguard marine interests in the Virgin Islands."
To be added to the email list, send your name, phone number and email address to this address or fax the information to 340-714-0466.
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