Although the Coastal Zone Management Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department offered the Moravian Church Virgin Islands Conference a choice of applying for a CZM permit for the existing Coral Bay floating dinghy dock extension or removing it, a letter from Church Conference property manager Samuel Rymer indicates the church has decided to remove the dinghy dock extension.
The letter from Rymer to CZM Director Jean-Pierre Oriol indicates that he is in negotiations with a tow truck company to do the job. Rymer wrote that he plans to complete the dock extension removal by Aug. 28.
Rhymer’s letter is the first concrete piece of information about the Moravian Church’s intentions concerning the dinghy dock extension.
In a vague press release issued last week, the Moravian Church announced that it was taking steps to “secure its property and avoid further liability.”
When reached by phone Monday about the Moravian Church’s intentions, Rymer had only a terse response.
“I can’t respond right now,” he said.
According to DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen, the Moravian Church has not applied for a CZM permit.
Oriol wrote to Rymer on June 18, giving him 30 days to deal with the matter.
Rymer wrote back in a letter dated July 16 but logged into CZM on Aug. 3.
In the press release, Moravian Church Superintendent Eulencine Christopher seemed a bit less firm in dealing with the dinghy dock extension issue. In the press release, she said, "In the best interest of the church and the public, the Moravian Church V.I. Conference is seeking to resolve the matter of the unauthorized floating docks and is actively engaged in communications with CZM to ensure its compliance with all relevant codes and applicable regulations.”
In a July 30 email to Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren, Christopher wrote that the Moravian Church is “actively working on addressing these matters as we seek ways to amicably resolve the concerns in the best interest of all parties.”
Christopher indicated that the church applied for an extension to the 30-day deadline imposed by CZM since it already expired.
Nielsen said, “It’s pending.”
Additionally Christopher wrote that the church is not granting permission to the Community Council or any other group to apply to DPNR for any permits or to take any actions related to this matter.
The wooden floating dock extension to the existing concrete dock was built by boater volunteers without a permit some years ago because overcrowding at the existing concrete dinghy dock created unsafe conditions.
Coldren said the situation was dangerous, and when an older woman boater fell into the water while trying to tie her dinghy up at the concrete dock, the volunteers felt they had no choice but to take their safety into their own hands.
Coldren said they tried to discuss the matter with the Moravian Church so the proper permit could be secured, but had no luck in getting a response.
CZM also wants a smaller dock used by the Kids and the Sea program removed. Robinson, who runs the Coral Bay-based program, said the organization uses the dock to tie up its safety boats.
“They’re instrumental in the lessons,” she said, referring to the learn-to-swim and sail classes provided by the program.
According to a letter to Rymer from Oriol dated June 18, both the dinghy dock extension and the KATS dock were installed after the CZM Act was passed. The federal law passed in 1972. Wikipedia indicates the territory’s CZM program began in 1979.
The letter gave Rymer 30 days to respond.
While the Moravian Church claims that the concrete dock was built more than 30 years ago by the church, Coldren said it was there as far back as the 1800s. A photo included in “St. John Backtime,” written by the late Rafael Valls and Ruth Low in 1985, includes a photo of teacher Maria Vessup with her students posed on the concrete dock.
Oriol, in the June 18 letter to Rymer, indicated there was no issue with the concrete dock because it predates the territory’s CZM Act.
According to Coldren, if it turns out that the dock has to be removed, the volunteers are willing to do the job.
Without the dock extension, Coldren said the boaters will be forced to drop their dinghy anchors close to land or tie up somewhere along the shoreline and wade in.
“That’s not environmentally preferable,” Coldren said.
In addition to the dock issues, the church conference press release also indicates that people who have parked cars and boats on their property should remove them.
“There are a number of abandoned vessels, illegally parked cars and other items on the church’s property that must be removed immediately,” Christopher said.
The press release issued last week was the latest chapter in a saga that began July 22 when Rymer showed up near the Coral Bay dinghy dock with a tow truck.
Coldren said a trailer with a boat and a trailer were towed. Coldren said that although the posted notice indicated that the fee would be $100 to get their property back, she said one of the people whose property was towed paid $250 on the spot to the towing company.
Coldren said once people got word that the tow truck was on the scene they scrambled to move their boats and vehicles. She said people are worried that this scenario will repeat itself.
While the property where the vehicles, boats and trailers are parked is controlled by the Moravian Church, Robinson pointed out that people have traditionally used the area to park their equipment and the dock to get to their boats.
“It’s an important asset to the community,” Robinson said.
Coldren wondered why a public meeting was not held in advance of the towing to alert people to the fact they would no longer be able to use the property.
Sirius Resort and Marina plans to build a hotel and marina on land the Moravian Church owns in the vicinity of the dinghy dock. The church also leases .842 acres of land in that area from the V.I. Port Authority. Spokesman Monifa Brathwaite said the church pays $4,800 a year for the lease. The lease began in 2012.
The hotel portion of the Sirius project needs a rezoning. It was on the agenda for a Legislature Committee of the Whole meeting on July 16, but it was held because the Moravian Church principals were at a conference.
Drawings show that once the marina is built the existing concrete dinghy dock will be replaced.
Christopher did not respond to a message left at the number indicated on the press release.