Nov. 6, 2008 — Turning out in droves, St. Croix residents largely voiced support for the long-anticipated resort and marina development at Estates William and Punch.
The outpouring of comments came at a public hearing of the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) committee Thursday, though some qualified that support with insistence upon changes to the plans.
Frederiksted's cavernous St. Gerard's Hall was filled to overflowing, with crowds watching from outside its arched windows to hear and be heard. The CZM committee took a passive role in the public hearing, allocating time at the microphone and taking notes and leaving the speaking to the resort's representatives and members of the public.
William and Punch's local partners Chris Elliott and Kevin Rames, joined by representatives of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the resort's developers, gave a broad overview of the resort's layout. Then the architects, archaeologists, golf-course designers and environmental engineers who put together the resort's CZM permit application went into greater depth about the aspects under their bailiwick, projecting maps, plans, photos and artist's conceptions upon the hall's wall. The project, now being called Amalago Bay, borders Rainbow Beach on the south and Sunset Beach on the north.
"From your point of view it probably looks to be quite big, but to us it is not so large and is all easily manageable components," Wade Blackmon, an attorney with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe said, pointing to the tribe's flagship Foxwoods Resorts Casino in Connecticut, one of the largest in the world.
The resort will have a 378-unit main hotel, Blackmon said. Of those, 322 will be in one central hotel and casino complex. Around that will be three swimming pools; an adult pool, a family pool and a recreational pool with a waterslide and other attractions, he said. An 18 hole public golf course is to run eastward up into the forested hills of Estates William and Punch. Two channels are to be cut inland, carving a lagoon for a 64 slip inland marina and providing two ways for water to come in and out. The channels and lagoon will create a small beach island of sorts, with a small bridge coming over the south channel. On the artificial island a 56-room beach hotel is planned.
"This is about focusing international attention on St. Croix with a world class resort," Blackmon said. "Not unlike what you have happening with the Atlantis in the Bahamas."
The super-affluent are the resort's target.
"Today's tourist spends a lot of money and demands a lot for it," he said. "There is a larger, affluent market that wants to spend money. What was the five-star market is the area of growth and now three and four star establishments are going after the top market."
Three residential areas which Blackmon called "golf villa complexes" are part of the project too. They are to have 144 residential lots of about an acre each. Blackmon said the variety of types of development were important to the business model.
The most controversial aspect of the plan calls for moving the shore road inland. Plans have the road splitting off at Rainbow Beach and going in about 800 feet, turning north. Then it will blend with Creque Dam Road before rejoining Northside Road. Ensuring continued easy public access to the beach is another widespread concern on St. Croix, though a concern Rames said is unfounded.
"Access will never be compromised, it will never be lost," he said. "Whoever tells you that is engaging in demagoguery."
Fifty-four residents signed up to voice their opinion. With five minutes apiece, there was no way for more than perhaps half to take their turn at the microphone. First on the list was former senator Adelbert Bryan said he supported building a resort but opposed moving the road, opposed having an inland marina and objected that residents would have to park and walk a short way to the beach instead of parking on the beach as they do now — all concerns he raised one year ago at a town hall held by the developers.
Bryan also pointed out the resort's archeologists had found graves back there, suggesting any development near any place a slave was buried was an offense against all people of African descent in the Virgin Islands. Rather than look at developments touching on abandoned graves in other locations, he compared it to "knocking off one of the faces on Mt. Rushmore," and "toppling the Statue of Liberty."
Antony Whitehead largely agreed with Bryan.
"I have roots here going back eight generations," Whitehead said. "Beach access, I believe, is a problem. People have to walk too far. I believe it is token access, not real access," Like Bryan, he said he supported the project in principle, but only if the designs are largely redone to keep the beach as it is now.
Carl Christian of the Africa-centered cultural and spiritual group Per Ankh, said he was concerned about moving the existing road away from the shore.
St. Croix musician Wayne E. "Bully" Petersen supported the project without reservation, largely dismissing the objections that have been raised.
"I see too much hopelessness in the youth," he said. "Our best and brightest have to leave for better opportunities, a brain drain and that is sad. So I support this project.
A protected marina would be a boon to boaters on the west end, he said.
"I can remember when Juni Bomba lost his two boats here, because there was no marina, no place to take the boats on short notice," he said. He did not share Bryan's outrage over developing around an abandoned graveyard.
"The graves, they were only bush to us, we weren't doing anything about it at all," he said. "Until their own archeologists told us what they are doing to preserve the artifacts."
Moving the road is not a problem for Petersen either.
"There is no evidence this is really a historic road," he said. "Buddhoe and Queen Mary made their sacrifices for us to progress, not to stay the same, so I support this project."
Several residents pointed to the benefits of a protected marina on the west end of St. Croix.
"There is no place in the west with a protected harbor in a storm; no place to buy fuel, ice or any of the simple stuff boaters need," said Trish Rhodes, a Realtor and member of the Golden Hook Sport Fishing Club. . We need a marina on the west end of the island."
Derrick Hill, owner of N2 The Blue dive shop, agreed the west end needs a protected marina, saying the island's other marinas are all full and demand outstrips the supply.
Donald Diddams and Paul Chakroff, chairman and managing director of the St. Croix Environmental Association both raised concerns about the environmental impact of the resort and said the developer's Environmental Assessment Report (E.A.R.) is inadequate.
"I'm disappointed most of our comments did not make it into the E.A.R ," Chakroff said.
Another man was concerned about the possible disruption of what he described as one of the best surfing locations in the Caribbean, with "eight to ten good days of waves a year," that has gotten attention in surfing publications.
One after another, residents came to the mike in turn, expressing varying degrees of support, qualified support and concern about the project. Few, if any, said they completely opposed the project, but many demanded the same sorts of changes as those discussed above.
William and Punch Partners applied to CZM last November, but CZM asked for more information and deemed the application incomplete. The partners submitted a new, updated application Aug. 25, which CZM deemed complete Sept. 12. Once over the CZM hurdle, William and Punch must get the Army Corps of Engineers to sign off. If all goes well, they may then break ground on the project.
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