The Save Coral Bay Fund joined forces with the V.I. Conservation Society to file an appeal against the Oct. 1 St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee decision that gave Summers End Group a CZM permit for its proposed 145-slip marina in Coral Bay. Additionally, the CZM permit gives Summers End oversight of the bay’s mooring field currently under the Department of Planning and Natural Resource’s purview.
“There is a pretty compelling set of reasons why the permit should not be issued,” said David Silverman, who is part of the effort to appeal the CZM decision and a mover and shaker in the Save Coral Bay Fund.
The appeal filed Nov. 14 asks the Board of Land Use Appeals to overturn the CZM permit.
Silverman said the fund has raised $75,000 to pay for legal fees associated with the appeal. He said that money came from residents and nonresidents who have an interest in Coral Bay. According to a press release from the Coral Bay Community Council about the appeal, they include business owners, frequent visitors, mariners, marine biologists, realtors and people from all walks of life “who see this proposed mega marina as the most threatening development ever to be considered for the island of St John.”
Silverman said the donations came in amounts as low as $5 and as much as $10,000.
The coalition hired attorneys to oppose the proposed development. At the territorial level, attorney Jennifer Jones will be lead counsel, assisted by attorney Andrew Simpson as chief litigation counsel.
"The numerous problems with these applications and the manner in which they were reviewed will all be noted in the filing with the Board of Land Use Appeals” Jones said in the press release. “This is an important environmental case that will highlight how the Coastal Zone Management Commission reviews CZM applications and whether it truly protects the environment and the public’s interest."
To handle aspects of the lengthy federal multiagency regulatory review process coordinated by the Army Corps of Engineers, the nationally known environmental and energy law firm of Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox is providing pro bono legal services. According to the press release from the Community Council, partners Robert Fox and Jonathan Rinde bring extensive experience in regulatory compliance and litigation in federal environmental law.
The appeal notes that the CZM failed to make all the findings required under the territory’s laws, granted the permit despite an “incomplete” application, and allowed participation in the public hearing and decision making meeting by committee member Brion Morrisette, who has a “glaring” conflict of interest.
The appeal points out that the majority of people who spoke out at an Aug. 20 public hearing on the CZM permit opposed the project. According to the appeal, this is contrary to CZM law that says it must take into account public opinion.
And Silverman told the Source that to give Summers End a lease on the submerged land where the marina slips will sit is against the public’s interest.
Silverman, who served 10 years on a CZM committee in the Village of Head-of-the Harbor on Long Island, N.Y., and was chairman of the town’s planning board for five years, said the public interest is particularly relevant when it comes to trust lands.
The appeal points out numerous more technical issues with the CZM application that centered on Summers End’s failure to submit relevant test data and provide adequate mitigation measures.
While the Summers End CZM application was approved at an Oct. 1 meeting by just two committee members, the appeal points out that the only other member, Morrisette, was present to make up the quorum but did not vote. Morrisette and one of the Summers End principals, Robert O’Connor Jr., hold leases on some of the land to be used for the development. The appeal indicates he and O’Connor gave Summers End the power of attorney for the permit process.
The appeal indicates that Morrisette should not have participated in any way because he stands to gain from the project.
The press release notes that the proposed marina by Summers End covers 28 acres of prime marine meadows, which is foraging habitat for endangered sea turtles. Its 145 slips accommodate mega yachts over 200 feet in length, for a total of 10,000 feet – almost two miles – of boats. And it is located on the most exposed part of Coral Bay harbor – the windward shore exposed to the direct ocean to the south and southeast. This is precisely where many boats have piled up on shore after the periodic tropical storms and hurricanes that hit St. John.
The potential damage to the tourism economy of Coral Bay, if this project were ever developed, is frightening, the press release indicates. The developers propose to drive 1,333 steel pilings into the harbor floor to support almost two acres of fixed marina structures, the release says, and the main pier extends more than 900 feet into the harbor, displacing many of the small sailboats currently on individual moorings in the harbor.
Coral Bay is known for its quiet and quirky ambiance – a haven for artists, musicians, builders and sailors. It has none of the amenities found in the ports that are frequented by mega yachts, indicates the press release. The noise and disruption of construction, and the ill-conceived idea of transforming Coral Bay into a destination for the mega-wealthy will destroy the appeal Coral Bay now has for the thousands of people who visit every year, the release states.
The Community Council estimated that in the first five years after construction begins, the local economy will lose more than $100 million in tourism revenue, against around the roughly $8 million per year that the marina claims to be able to generate.
For more information and to view the entire appeal, visit www.savecoralbay.com. To contribute to the legal fund, visit www.GoFundMe.com/coralbay.