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Environmental Projects Get $2.7 Million in Stimulus Funds

Two projects on St. John and one on St. Croix will get a total of $2.7 million for watershed stabilization and turtle nesting protection projects, Delegate Donna M. Christensen announced Tuesday in a statement.

The money is part of the federal economic stimulus program and comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It will be funneled through the St. Croix-based V.I. Resources Conservation & Development Council.

"We are ecstatic," VIRC&D President Marcia Taylor said.

The money breaks down to $1.48 million to the Coral Bay Community Council and $474,000 to the Fish Bay Homeowners Association for both to address storm water runoff issues on St. John. Additionally, VIRC&D will relocate a trail to East End Bay in St. Croix’s East End Marine Park to protect a turtle nesting beach with $321,000, according to Julie Wright, VIRC&D coordinator. She said an additional $509,000 goes to monitoring the projects, including management and administrative costs.

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Storm water runoff is the biggest source of non-source point pollution in the territory, Taylor said, referring mainly to pollution that runs down Virgin Islands hillsides when it rains.

The $2.7 million in funding is part of $167 million given to 50 habitat restoration projects across the country. Christensen said that NOAA received 814 proposals totaling $3 billion.

"The strong interest clearly demonstrates a growing demand to improve the condition of the nation’s coasts and the economy," Christensen said in the statement.

With the Coral Bay Community Council getting the bulk of the money, council president Sharon Coldren said the group plans to repair roadways and storm water drainages on both private and public roads in the Coral Bay area, control water flow in Coral Bay Harbor and eliminate the sediment that smothers the harbor’s coral reefs.

While Chuck and Terry Pishko, who are in charge of the project for the Fish Bay Homeowners Association, could not be reached for comment, Wright said that it involves road paving, installing culverts and swales, and erecting a gabion wire-mesh basket retaining wall.

The East End Marine Park projects calls for moving the trail to East End Bay from its departure point near Point Udall away from the beach because it’s a turtle nesting area. The trail will still take people to the Nature Conservancy’s Isaac’s Bay, but will follow the contours of the land, Wright said. She said the conservancy will also work on the trail project.

The projects include a monitoring component that will show their impact.

"We are going to be able to monitor on land and water to show the reduction in sediment," Taylor said.

Wright was unsure when the money would arrive but expected it shortly. The organizations have two years to complete the projects. Wright said these projects were chosen because they could get under way quickly.

VIRC&D will hire local contractors to do the work. Wright said the projects are expected to generate 26 jobs.

However, the work on public roads on St. John will be done in conjunction with the Public Works Department, Coldren said. She said work on private roads will be in concert with homeowners’ associations.

According to Taylor, the fact that so many groups worked together enabled the territory to get the money. While various organizations had input, Robert Mathes, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, was one of several people who gave kudos to the DPNR staff for their help.

"This is a wonderful example of a public/private partnership," he said.

The projects completed with this funding are expected to serve as models for the rest of the territory.

Mathes sees the funding as a way to repair past bad development decisions that left the islands’ reefs and other underwater habitats vulnerable to sedimentation.

"We’re playing catch-up," he said.

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