Special feature for the St. John Source and St. John Tradewinds
An article in the Virgin Islands Daily News on May 8 regarding an application by the Yacht Club at Summer’s End to build a marina in Coral Bay momentarily sent pulses racing among those who have followed the proposed project’s roller-coaster history.
The headline “Army Corps withdraws Summer’s End Marina plan” suggested the plan had been denied by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and a typo misstating the date of the action made it seem more recent and newsworthy.
In fact, nothing has changed concerning the status of the controversial project since November 3, 2015 when USACE informed the Summer’s End Group, LLC (SEG) that the application had been withdrawn from processing, according to Nakeir Nobles, a spokesperson with the Army Corps.
Nobles explained that in a case like this, “withdrawn from processing,” means the applicant must provide more detailed information before USACE can continue to review the project.
USACE sent a letter to SEG on October 22, 2015, detailing the information the developers needed to supply before their application for the proposed marina could be deemed complete.
“The Corps enumerated six main topics, for which additional information was being required,” said Nobles. “The specific information requested under each topic is diverse and directly related to the requirements of our Regulatory Program.”
A marina project in the Virgin Islands must get approval from USACE, a federal agency, as well as from local authorities, including Coastal Zone Management, the VI Legislature and the governor.
The 13-page letter from USACE enumerated multiple concerns, including the project’s location which would leave it vulnerable to rough sea conditions; increased boat traffic which would negatively impact marine habitats; “potential adverse effects” on “existing ecotourism based attractions”; and increased pressure on the infrastructure at Coral Bay, “particularly with respect to traffic, energy, potable water, solid wastes and wastewater,” according to the October 22, 2015 letter.
In spite of the delay, Chaliese Summers, managing member of the Yacht Club at Summer‘s End, said the developers have been working to complete the information requested by the Army Corps.
“It is critical to Summer’s End to effectively protect, preserve, and improve the environment of Coral Harbor,” said Summers. “We have spent more than the past year testing, monitoring, sampling and collecting data to establish the current condition of Coral Harbor, dentifying the current pollution, the cause of the pollution, damaged areas in need of repair, and target areas for preservation.”
Summers said the developers were ”working one on one with native St. Johnians to receive their additional input and ideas on the best solutions for a restoration of Coral Harbor and the community of Coral Bay.”
She said the project would help clean up the harbor and provide much needed jobs in the community
“As soon as we finalize the data from the additional studies and environmental testing that has been ongoing and submit this information to the U.S. Army Corps, we will continue to work with the U.S. Army Corps through the remaining permitting process,” she said.
The time period within which SEG must provide the requested information remains an open
question. Nobles said that USACE would consider how to proceed when the information has been supplied.
“If and/or when the applicant submits the additional information requested by the Corps via letter dated Oct. 22, 2015, the information would be evaluated and a determination of how to proceed (i.e., continue with the evaluation of the application, issue a new public notice, or request submittal of a new permit application) would be made,” according to Nobles.
She said USACE would consider “all relevant factors, including the time elapsed since the application was withdrawn from processing, changes in the project design, changes in the conditions at the project area, public interest and awareness, and changes in applicable regulations and procedures, among others.”
The Summer’s End Group sent in their application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 10, 2015. On July 9, 2015, USACE issued a Public Notice, requesting comments from the public regarding this permit application.
The response was overwhelming. Over the next six months, USACE received more than 15,000 letters and emails form residents, visitors, and members of conservation organizations opposing the project.
The project became a hot topic shortly before Summer’s End Group was granted a permit in October 2014 by the St. John Board of the Coastal Zone Management. It was the first of many steps involved in permitting a marine project by U.S. Virgin Islands Government entities.
That CZM permit allowed construction of Phase I– a marina that would cover 30 acres and include nearly 46 slips for mega yachts and 96 slips for smaller vessels.
Environmentalists were especially alarmed by the developers’ plan to sink 1,333 pilings, raising concerns about the effects on marine life from increased construction noise and changes in water circulation patterns. Boaters were upset that the project would require most of the115 boats typically moored in Coral Bay to relocate; with nearby anchorages already filled to capacity, they would have no place to go.
Although plans for a marina in Coral Bay have been in the works for decades, community members were concerned by the scale of the proposed project and the speed with which the first stage of territorial permitting was granted.
Most community members first became aware of the plan only a few weeks before a hearing by the St. John Board of Coastal Zone Management in August 2014.
The project became even more controversial because only two members of the CZM board voted in favor of the proposal. By law, CZM boards should be comprised of five members, but the St. John Board has had two vacancies for several years, and a third member had to recuse himself because of a conflict of interest.
The marina was only the first phase of what would be a multi-year project to include an upscale shopping center, residences, a hotel and a spa. To see the project as it is now promoted by the developers, click the following link: http://www.theyachtclubatsummersend.net/
In response to the activity by the St. John CZM Board, a community group called Save Coral Bay was formed to raise awareness as well as funds to challenge the project on a number of fronts, including going to court over the CZM Board’s decision. That case is still pending.
Save Coral Bay’s president, David Silverman, said he believes SEG’s proposal is now even less likely to succeed given another competing plan for a marina in Coral Bay (proposed by T-Rex, LLC, also known as Sirius).
Furthermore, a piece of shoreline property which was to become an integral part of the SEG’s development was sold last year to a developer who is opposed to the project. That property, now known as Isola, was formerly the site of Voyages restaurant.
“We believe that given the elapsed time (19 months since the Corps requested information), the changed circumstances (including sale of the Voyages parcels), the increased economic activity in the area (many new businesses), and the continuing improvements in the water quality of Coral Bay, it would be most likely that the Corps would require a new application if the Summer’s End Group were to attempt to revive this project,” said Silverman.
Silverman said the majority of individual applications, such as the one for SEG, are never acted upon by the Corps. “They are neither approved nor denied and they simply die on the vine – the applicant stops pursuing them and they become inactive.”
When asked to give the percentages of applications that are approved, denied, and left inactive, Nobles, speaking on behalf of the USACE, said, “We don’t track data in the manner of which you seek. However I can tell you that during fiscal year 2015, the district’s regulatory staff issued 3,516 general permits, which 2,919 of those permits (83 percent) [were] completed within 60 days. Also during 2015, 472 individual permits were issued. Thirty four percent of those were completed within 120 days of a complete application package.”
She added, “The Corps of Engineers is neither a proponent or opponent of any proposed project. We adhere to strict federal rules and regulations during the permitting process to ensure we provide the regulated public with fair and reasonable decisions while providing protection of aquatic resources.”