Unless the Department of Planning and Natural Resources can answer by Monday the 21 points raised about the proposed Summers End Marina that were posed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency plans to pull the plug on the bulk of a $1.3 million Boating Infrastructure Grant. However, Summers End can still collect up to $303,815 for expenses for environmental assessments and other soft costs related to permit applications for its Coral Bay project, federal Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom McKenzie said Friday.
“We’ll take a look at their responses,” McKenzie said.
It’s unclear if Summers End has collected any of the $303,815, and DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen said Friday the department would have no comment at this time.
Summers End plans a 145-slips marina targeted at mega yachts but the Boating Infrastructure Grant was only supposed to be for environmental work on permits for 36 of those slips targeted for transient boaters.
According to a letter from federal Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program chief Michael L. Piccirilli to acting DPNR Commissioner Dawn Henry dated March 17, the project is ineligible for the rest of the funding if it will “significantly degrade or destroy valuable resources or alter the cultural or historic nature of the area.”
The letter goes on to say that federal Fish and Wildlife revisited its initial decision to provide funding based on an analysis of information received. McKenzie said the agency listened when other federal agencies and residents wrote to raise their concerns.
St. John resident Barry Devine was one of those who wrote many letters to federal Fish and Wildlife, pointing out that funding any portion of the Summers End Marina was not a proper use of the money.
“It doesn’t fit and they can’t make it fit into a mold that’s appropriate,” Devine said of the grant money.
Devine said he was horrified to learn that Summers End can get up to the $303,815 for the environmental work they did for their applications.
“Those funds could have been used so much more constructively had U.S. Fish and Wildlife been paying attention,” Devine said.
The 21 points raised by federal Fish and Wildlife cover a wide range of concerns that focus on the environment. It begins with a request for a complete analysis of onsite and offsite alternatives to the marina project. It asks for information on the acoustic impact on sea turtles when piles are driven, impacts on mangroves, a proposed mooring plan, spill containment plans for barges, data on hurricanes, tropical storms, tidally influenced and wind-driven transport patterns in Coral Bay, and impacts to V.I. National Park and V.I. Coral Reef National Monument.
“Until these concerns can be adequately addressed, we are unable to deem the project as eligible for funding,” Piccirilli wrote to Henry.
Federal Fish and Wildlife plans to close out the grant on June 1. The letter from Piccirilli to Henry said that Planning could reapply for a Boating Infrastructure Grant for this project or any other but there was no guarantee it would be granted.
Chalise Summers, who with Rick Barksdale, are the principals in the Summers End project, referred questions to Planning.
“We’re in direct contact with DPNR on everything,” she said Friday.
While Devine and others focused on convincing federal Fish and Wildlife to halt the Boating Infrastructure Grant funding, an ad hoc group called Save Coral Bay formed after Summers End got the required Coastal Zone Management permit on Oct. 1, 2014. It mounted a campaign to pressure the Army Corps of Engineers not to issue its requisite permit.
Save Coral Bay’s website lists slews of letters from various federal agencies supporting their position. The list starts with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which wrote that after reviewing the available data, EPA believes that this project will result in significant impacts to aquatic resources of national importance.
“EPA thus strongly recommends the denial of a Department of the Army permit for this project," EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck wrote.
In a letter signed by Virginia M. Fay, assistant regional administrator of Habitat Conservation Division, the National Marine Fisheries Service weighed in by saying that addition to the impacts to Aquatic Resources of National Importance, the agency concludes the docking structure construction, mooring facility and upland development will adversely impact Essential Fish Habitat. “The Department of the Army shall not authorize the project as proposed."
The list of those opposed also includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and V.I. National Park.
Many residents and nonresidents wrote to the Army Corps requesting that its permit be denied and donated money to Save Coral Bay to mount a legal challenge against the CZM permit.
David Silverman, who helped spearhead Save Coral Bay, said as of Friday afternoon 828 people donated a total of $94,794 to help the group with legal expenses. He said Save Coral Bay in conjunction with the V.I. Conservation Society filed an appeal with the territory’s Board of Land Use Appeals to overturn the CZM decision. That appeal is pending.
Silverman also said that a thousand people wrote letters to the Army Corps and sent copies to him. Additionally, he said, another 12,500 people wrote letters to the Army Corps through the National Parks Conservation Association opposing the Summers End project.
"The thousands of supporters of Save Coral Bay can give a collective thank you to these federal agencies whose comments echo those expressed by hundreds of residents and visitors. We appreciate the science, study and years of work that have helped these agencies reach the conclusion that Coral Bay is a resource to be protected," Silverman said.
After Summers End got the CZM permit, the planned Sirius Resort and Marina development located across Coral Bay Harbor from the proposed Summers End Marina had an airing. The 89-room hotel portion of that project on land owned by the Moravian Church is waiting for a rezoning. The marina will have 92 slips. Both portions also need a CZM permit.