There has been a lot of chatter in the local media about the activities of the “Summer’s End Group” (SEG) and their plans for a mega yacht marina in Coral Bay. It is time to set the record straight about the actual impacts of SEG’s proposed marina versus their claims and hype.
What has SEG done for Coral Bay?
During the four years that Chaliese Summers and her “Summer’s End Group” have been pursuing permits for a mega yacht marina in Coral Bay Harbor, the impact of this project has been profoundly felt in Coral Bay, and not in a positive way. For example:
• Jobs for locals? There have been none, except for the salaries paid to the LLC members Chaliese Summers and Rick Barksdale.
• Economic boost to Coral Bay? Exactly the opposite: The Summer’s End Group has tied up at least four significant land parcels in long term non-performing leases. Instead of the considerable income local families expected to earn from leasing their property to SEG, they have received little or nothing for four years. And even worse than that, one of the parcels experienced total devastation during Hurricane Irma and Summer’s End has done absolutely nothing to remedy this situation. Rather than maintaining insurance coverage, and rather than being good citizens of Coral Bay and cleaning up their debris, Summer’s End has left the Island Blues property as the worst eyesore in all of Coral Bay. The ongoing impacts of this wreckage on residents, visitors and local businesses are extreme.
• Protecting the environment of Coral Bay? In spite of their claims to be highly respectful of the environment and their stated desires to improve conditions in the harbor, their actions have been entirely contrary to these claims. The wreckage of Island Blues – on a parcel purportedly leased to Summer’s End Group – presents continuing damage to the shoreline, the offshore waters, and neighboring properties. SEG did absolutely nothing to remediate the fallen vegetation, collapsed structures, and marine debris on “their” shoreline. This is not how someone concerned about environmental quality would behave.
Has the project “been delayed by lawsuits”?
Chaliese Summers claims that the project has been delayed by lawsuits – nothing could be farther from the truth. The facts are all a matter of public record.
During 2013 the Summer’s End Group, via DPNR, applied for a “Boating Infrastructure Grant” with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). On their application materials, SEG claimed their project would “be as minimally invasive on the environment as possible” and that their design would “result in the absolute minimum of disturbance to subaqueous marine resources.”
These statements were critical to obtaining the FWS grant, since one of the conditions of the award was that the project would not be eligible for funding if it “significantly degrades or destroys valuable resources or alters the cultural or historic nature of the area.” In March 2015 the USFWS rescinded the award to the Summer’s End Group after reviewing the false claims made in the SEG application regarding environmental impacts.
Why is this relevant? The first major delay to Summers End Group happened after USFWS rescinded the grant, causing the Army Corps to require a new application from SEG, a new Public Notice and a new comment period. This was a six-month delay in the Army Corps permitting process.
What happened next was that six federal agencies – the EPA, the National Park Service, NOAA Fisheries Protected Resource Division, NOAA Fisheries Protected Habitat Division, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — all submitted comment letters highly critical of the project. EPA and NMFS urged the Corps to deny the permit immediately. Other agencies urged the Corps to require a complete Environmental Impact Statement. These extensive critiques by other federal agencies, together with the extensive public comments, led the Army Corps in October 2015 to submit over 100 requests for additional information to SEG.
It took the Summers End Group almost two years to respond to the Army Corps. From August 2017 through March 2018 SEG was sending additional data and documents to the Corps. Overall the delay incurred by SEG themselves in responding to the Army Corps amounted to 22 months.
And for the sake of completeness, we should mention that the application for a CZM permit submitted by SEG in 2014 was materially incorrect. In that application Chaliese Summers swore that SEG had the “irrevocable right” to build the marina on the seven land parcels described in their application. SEG knew when they submitted that application that it was incorrect. They owned no land. Their authority was limited to applying for permits.
When two of the parcels were sold in 2016 this caused SEG to have to rework their plans, their mitigations, and the overall footprint of their project. It will also cause them to have to go back to CZM for a new permit on the substantially modified plan. Hopefully, if there is a second go around, they will have learned their lesson and only apply for construction permits on land they actually control. Again, this is a delay of SEG’s own making.
An ongoing pattern of misrepresentation…
The list of misstatements, misrepresentations and outright lies emanating from the Summer’s End Group is staggering. Here are some of the most egregious ones:
• The marina will give a major boost to the economy of Coral Bay: Independent economic analysis has confirmed that the direct negative impacts on the ecotourism based local economy of Coral Bay will be far greater than the “economic boost” claimed by Summer’s End. So, while the owners of the marina may extract some profits from their plan, the hundreds of small rental property owners and small businesses of Coral Bay will experience a multi-year negative economic impact. The net effect – St John and Coral Bay loses, while the investors in SEG (if they were ever successful) win.
• The marina will create jobs for locals: Anyone who has visited the St. Thomas marinas during the June through November time period knows the docks are deserted, most businesses are closed, and there are no employees at work. The Caribbean marina business is highly seasonal, running from December through May and then shut down the remainder of the year. This is largely dictated by insurance policies which will not provide yacht coverage from June 1 through November 30, and so the yachts leave, the marinas shut down, and employees are let go. Seasonal work does not support a family wage earner – a family needs to be fed and housed 12 months a year, not just when the yachts are in town. To the extent there are marina jobs they will be suited for transient workers, not local families.
• The location is ideally suited for a mega yacht marina: Ask any knowledgeable yachtsman whether the western shoreline of Coral Bay is a good location for a marina. Anyone who has spent any time at all on the land or waters of Coral Bay knows that particular shoreline is the most exposed shoreline of all of Coral Bay Harbor. Constant wave action, even during calm periods, renders the site unsuitable for yacht slips. And, as we all know, the impacts of tropical storms and hurricanes is devastating there and throughout Coral Bay.
• The marina will be a benefit to Coral Bay in the event of another major hurricane: A total fiction without any basis in reality. The first responders after Hurricane Irma arrived in Coral Bay by boat. Roads were impassable and there was nowhere to safely land helicopters. If the harbor had been strewn with the wreckage of over one thousand pilings and acres of docks, Coral Bay would have been cut off from the outside world entirely. And if the thousands of gallons of fuel intended to be stored on the shoreline of Coral Bay had spilled, the environmental disaster would have been unimaginable.
• The marina will restore the natural marine environment of Coral Bay Harbor: Simply untrue in every respect. Look at other marinas in the USVI – in St Thomas Benner Bay for example. Marinas result in toxic discharges to the water, debris on the seabed, and severe impacts to neighboring mangroves, corals and fisheries. If you want to restore
the marine environment of Coral Bay you need to enforce light use, proper mooring, and no discharge of pollutants or waste. The last thing you would want to do is build a marina.
What does the future hold for Coral Bay?
Although nobody can look over the horizon, we believe the future is bright for Coral Bay. Disaster recovery will be a multi-year process, but with the dedication and commitment of the community and the ample funding coming from public and private sources, we see a bright future ahead.
We believe a sensible plan for marine uses of Coral Bay Harbor will be implemented in the near future. We foresee better regulation of mooring, shoreline access via small dock structures, proper disposal of marine wastes, and a general recognition that Coral Bay needs protection, not exploitation, in order to survive.
Upland, our roads and storm water management will see ongoing improvements. This is critical to reducing the sediments entering the harbor. Our dumpsters will be moved out of the mangroves where they continually are fouling the shoreline with windblown debris.
The one thing that Coral Bay does not need now, or in the future, is large scale commercial exploitation for hotels, marinas, or other projects that fundamentally change the character and natural qualities of this remarkable place.
David Silverman, president of Save Coral Bay Inc., a Virgin Islands nonprofit corporation